By By Chuck Bodiford Publisher
Saturday morning allowed many residents to witness a feat seldom seen: an Amtrak train backing up to the train station in downtown Atmore.
A freight train derailment in the McDavid and Cantonment areas of Florida caused the Amtrak train to lose access to the CSX lines, preventing the passenger train from continuing on its scheduled route.
A local resident, Jerry Gehman, noticed that the train was running about four hours late on Saturday. The Sunset Limited normally makes it way through Atmore around 4 a.m., but Saturday, it came through town at 7:50 a.m., Gehman said. He wasn't sure what the problem was, but knew something was definitely going on when he witnessed the train backing up to the Atmore train station at 9:45 a.m. at the intersection of Hwy 31 and Pensacola Avenue.
"I knew something wasn't right when I saw the train backing up," Gehman said. "They (Amtrak) have strong rules about backing up with passengers especially through crossings, unless extenuating circumstances exist." Gehman had the opportunity to eat lunch with the conductor where he learned the train actually backed up for about 11 miles.
Gary Sease, a spokesman for CSX confirmed that a freight train derailed in the area of north Florida, which hampered Amtrak's ability to use the tracks. "At 8:15 Saturday morning a freight train had two cars that derailed around the McDavid area. It occurred after leaving a local industry and only involved cargo that is classified as rough wood," Sease said. He continued by saying, "the last car was re-railed by 3:20 p.m. and the tracks were open for traffic by 4:25 p.m. that afternoon.
Gehman said, "Many of the passengers had some good things to say about Atmore such as how nice our town was and how it was so well manicured." According to Gehman, Atmore had the opportunity to impress and play host to 109 passengers plus the train's crew on Saturday for almost three hours.
Three charter buses was sent to pick up the passengers and take them to their destination.
One bus became stuck at the intersection of Main Street and Louisville Street. It ran into a drop-off, which suspended its frame on a curb preventing the bus from pulling forward or backing up. The bus was pulled free by a local wrecker so that it could be rerouted to the train to pickup its passengers.
Amtrak officials could not be reached as of press deadline.