First published in the July 7 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
Scouts from La Cañada Flintridge on a backpacking trip in New Mexico found themselves without a way home after a recent crash and derailment of an Amtrak train.
The 20 scouts, from Troop 509, chartered by Jet Propulsion Laboratory, had traveled to Philmont Scout Ranch on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief on Father’s Day, and were to return home on Independence Day. The 1,000-mile trip takes 22 hours by train, with the Scouts sleeping in their seats.
On June 27, halfway through the Scouts’ two weeks of backpacking at Philmont, a Southwest Chief train from Los Angeles to Chicago struck a dump truck and derailed in Missouri, killing three train passengers and the truck driver.
Back in La Cañada Flintridge, the day after the crash, troop leader and trip organizer David Haxton was notified that the Scouts’ train home had been canceled, as the derailed cars were the same ones to be used for the Scouts’ train ride back home.
The Scouts, camping in the southern tip of the Rocky Mountains, knew nothing of the crash or cancellation, or anything else going on in the world.
Haxton tried for several days to reach a live person at Amtrak to get the Scouts on another train, but without success. He then called U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff’s office in Burbank for help. They were able to arrange for the Scouts to travel on a train the day after the canceled train, and even have the original fares refunded, making the train trip free.
Upon returning from their 90-mile hike, the Scouts learned of the train crash and cancellation and their delayed travel. They spent an extra day at Philmont’s base camp, then boarded the Southwest Chief for Los Angeles. The Scouts’ original plan had been to be home for the Fourth of July, picnicking and watching fireworks with their families, but instead they spent the day on the train, and were somewhere in the desert between Gallup, New Mexico, and Winslow, Arizona, when firework shows were going off elsewhere.