A ride home this weekend on an Amtrak train from Florida to Virginia left Deanna Weaver's 51/2-year-old daughters begging to take a plane next time.
Train No. 92, which originated in Miami and ended in New York, was more than 14 hours late to Washington and other destinations yesterday after a slew of unscheduled stops.
The train, according to passengers and an Amtrak official, was delayed because of engine problems, the ouster of an inebriated passenger, the evacuation of a sick rider, repair work on track signals and a pedestrian who wandered onto the tracks between Jacksonville, Fla., and Savannah, Ga., and was struck by the train.
There were conflicting reports among Amtrak officials and passengers about the incident, but the man appears to have survived.
On the train, tempers flared, bathrooms reeked and food supplies dwindled, passengers said.
"I planned this as an educational experience for my girls," said Weaver, who lives in Fairfax Station and boarded in Orlando after visiting Walt Disney World with her daughters. "I wanted to teach them about the states and give them the experience of traveling on a train instead of a plane. It was an experience, all right."
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari confirmed that the train -- which carried 442 passengers -- encountered a rare series of unfortunate events after it left Miami at 8:50 a.m. Friday. It didn't arrive in Washington until 2:20 a.m. yesterday, slightly more than 14 hours behind schedule. The train completed its arduous journey to New York at 6:26 a.m. -- 14 hours and 43 minutes late.
"This was unusual," Magliari said. "It isn't what you normally can expect on Amtrak."
No. 92's troubles were the latest for Amtrak, which carried 25 million passengers last year but has faced several problems. Its high-speed Acela trains were taken out of service for a few months in April because of brake problems. Amtrak has struggled to make money since it began operations in 1971, and the Bush administration wants it to declare bankruptcy so it can reorganize.
Magliari said Amtrak gave passengers free food during the long trip and provided complimentary hotel rooms for about a dozen passengers who missed their connections in Washington. Weaver, however, said she was asked to pay for everything on the train, including bottled water and a blanket.
The travel delays were exacerbated because trains are required to slow down when temperatures are very high. No. 92 had reduced its speed from 79 to 59 mph. There were further delays for Amtrak-mandated crew changes.
Magliari said he could not confirm reports by passengers that the train was hit by lightning and also delayed when a freight train collided with a truck. Passenger Sandy Mayson, 24, of Washington, said the collision occurred near Palatka, Fla.
The trip "was incredible," Mayson said. "The conductors were saying that there wasn't a whole lot anybody could have done -- just a series of bizarre natural catastrophes, except for the signal going down."
The longest delay was outside Fredericksburg. The train stopped for more than five hours for signal repair work by CSX Corp., which owns the train tracks. Magliari said Amtrak had been told by CSX that the work would take about an hour.
CSX spokeswoman Jane Covington said that the repairs are intended to improve the system, and that CSX would review with Amtrak what occurred.
When the train started up again, Weaver didn't wait to get to Alexandria. She said she and her children disembarked when the train made an unscheduled stop in Quantico to let off an elderly couple.