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On The Ground NOW!

July 10, 2010

Working on the passenger trains, you see many things. Some things are worth forgetting, but many others are worth repeating. The names have been omitted to protect the innocent… and the guilty.

One night, an inmate walked away from a halfway house in Marion, Illinois, and made his way to Amtrak station in Carbondale. When the southbound City of New Orleans arrived, he snuck his way onto the train. Dressed in the standard Illinois Department of Corrections issued grey sweatpants, white tee-shirt and sneakers, he stood out to the conductors as someone who hadn’t gotten on the train the traditional way… you know; with a ticket.

“Where to, sir?”



“Well sir, you’re on the wrong train. This is the train to New Orleans.”

Well, the conductors involved put two and two together and figured that someone in the immediate vicinity hadn’t been given permission to leave his previous vicinity, and discreetly called back to the Amtrak station to get the phone numbers of a couple of area prisons that frequently dropped parolees off for their trip back to civilization. Nobody reported missing.

“So,” the coach attendant asked, “how long have you been in?”

The guy held up four fingers. “Three years.”

Unspoken was the thought, “we have a real genius here.”

South of Carbondale, the southbound and northbound Cities meet every night. The conductor called ahead to his northbound counterpart and explained the situation.

“I don’t want him,” he said. “What if he causes trouble on MY train.”

“Oh, just take him. He’s okay.”

Somewhat reluctantly, the northbound conductor agreed to pick up the individual… and then called the Carbondale station to have the police meet the train. Shortly the two trains pulled up side by side, and the man was transferred to the northbound train.

“Have a nice day,” the southbound conductor said, knowing what the fellow was in for.

“Thank you,” the fellow replied as he flashed a toothless smile.

It was about this time that I was showing up for work at the Amtrak station, and the agent informed me the cops were meeting the train to nab a stowaway.

Now on the northbound train, the said stowaway was enjoying a friendly conversation with the assistant conductor. As the train neared Carbondale, he offered the fellow a cigarette.

“You smoke?”

“Oh yeah, thanks man.”

“Well, follow me and you can step off for a moment at the station.”

In the meantime, I was about to take tickets for the northbound passengers I would be putting on the train when it stopped. Several cops were already milling about and more squad cars were pulling into the parking lot. The guy who seemed to be in charge walked up to me.

“Keep everyone back here until we’re done.”

“No problem,” I said.

The train came to a stop and the lounge car door opened. When the fellow in the prison garb emerged, gratefully looking forward to a cigarette, the cops swooped in like buzzards on road kill.

“ON THE GROUND,” they yelled with guns drawn, “NOW!!!”

He dropped like Larry Holmes when attempting a comeback against Mike Tyson. After a few moments he was scooped up off the pavement and loaded into the back of a squad car. We loaded our passengers and still somehow managed to depart on time.

Where are the camera crews for “Cops” when you need them?


Copyright 2010, Mary Rae McPherson

One Comment leave one →
  1. Les Beckman permalink
    October 28, 2010 10:38 am

    Mary Rae –

    Enjoyed your website. Just for your info, Southern 401 now has her cab windows and doors installed.

    My wife and I have ridden the City of New Orleans a few times. Usually a nice ride.

    Les Beckman (Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum/North Judson, Indiana)

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