So when I said I was traveling on Tuesday, I was going to New York by train to take in a panel discussion and luncheon about the Iranian nuclear talks that was being held by the National Security Network. The luncheon started at 12:30, so I got tickets for a train that left DC at 7:25 and got in to New York at around 10:45, at least in theory. It was Amtrak train 172, the Northeast Regional Train, and aside from the fact that I had to get up at 5:30 in the morning everything seemed to be going fine for the first couple of hours or so.
NJ Transit train service along the Northeast corridor is running with delays of an hour or more after a suspicious package was cleared from an Amtrak train this morning, officials said.
Northeast Regional train 172 was en route from Washington, D.C. to Boston when it was stopped near Jersey Avenue in New Brunswick around 10 a.m. so police could examine a passenger’s bag, spokesman Craig Schulz said.
Passengers were let off at Jersey Avenue while the bag was searched. When the bag was deemed safe about an hour later passengers were able to re-board, Schulz said.
I’ll be totally honest; when they stopped the train I had finally hit the “I don’t care how uncomfortable this seat is, I’m taking a nap” stage of the trip, so I was only barely aware that the train wasn’t moving. I snapped out of it pretty quickly when they ordered everybody off the train, though. They herded us all out of the train just shy of the New Brunswick station, though as our train wasn’t supposed to stop there we had to cross over another set of train tracks to get clear of everything. In another context or to a disinterested observer this might have seemed funny, fancy DC-to-New York travelers having to navigate loose stones and train tracks in their high heels and tailored suits, but mostly I was thinking “I’m not going to make the lunch and, therefore, will have bought this train ticket and gotten up at 5:30 for no reason.”
Everybody was ordered to go stand in the train station parking lot while New Brunswick police, including a bomb-sniffing dog, went to work on whatever was worrying them. I mostly spent my time emailing people who I thought I might see at the lunch in New York to tell them that there was a pretty good chance I wasn’t going to make it, then calling my dad because it’s nice to hear a familiar voice while you’re waiting for your train to blow up. Not being one of those assertive photojournalist types (I respect the hell out of those folks but I know my limits), the best picture I got of the whole scene was this fairly lame one through a fence, wherein you can barely see the train that was the whole focus of the situation:
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” lang=”en”><p>tfw your Amtrak train to NY is evacuated in New Brunswick due to a suspicious package <a href=”http://t.co/Wi9LekwpIw”>pic.twitter.com/Wi9LekwpIw</a></p>— Derek Davison (@dwdavison9318) <a href=”https://twitter.com/dwdavison9318/status/514431029038551040″>September 23, 2014</a></blockquote>
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New Brunswick is a lovely place, and I highly recommend that, if you plan on going there and standing in the parking lot of the train station for an hour or so, that you pick a spot close to the train tracks. Also, I wouldn’t wear a suit.
I know that news article says we were back on the train an hour later, but that’s generous. It was more like an hour and ten minutes, which isn’t that big a difference but when you’re trying to make a scheduled event is kind of important. Interestingly, while I can honestly say that I wasn’t worried during the evacuation, I felt just a little anxiety once we got back on the train, like maybe the first suspicious package was all a false flag or whatever and The Evildoers were really planning something bad once we got closer to New York. Ridiculous, and it’s not like I was sitting there in mortal terror or anything, but I definitely noticed the feeling.
We took the last part of the trip slowly, so that by the time we got into New York we were actually about an hour and a half behind schedule, and thus my lunch event was starting. I decided to hail a cab rather than try to walk, since I had no idea where I was going, but between waiting in line at the cab stand and the traffic we had to negotiate once I finally got a cab, I could have wandered the island of Manhattan aimlessly and probably found the place faster than it took to drive there. All in all I walked into the lunch event about halfway through, and immediately felt bad because it was really just a group of people sitting around a big table, so there was no slinking in and sitting in the back of the room. I felt worse for the person who organized the event, who is a friend of mine (that’s how I got the invitation); between the Syrian airstrikes overnight, one of Hassan Rouhani’s several media availabilities at the UN, and the train snafu, a bunch of people had to cancel on the lunch altogether. The last half of the discussion was great, and I was sorry I’d missed the first half.
I spent the rest of my time (my train back didn’t leave until 6:45) being a tourist in New York for the first time ever. I stopped by the New York Public Library, which is a beautiful building and had a great little exhibit on WWI propaganda, then headed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where the hour and 45 minutes I had before closing allowed me to see about 20% of the place. It surpassed any expectation I had for the place, and my expectations were actually pretty high going in.
Luckily the trip home was decidedly less eventful than the trip to NYC, though when the train rolled into Union Station at 10:00 I was pretty well beat, and still had another half hour drive to get to Falls Church. I would definitely make the trip again, though I’d appreciate it if Amtrak could pre-screen the suspicious packages next time.