ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH, La. – A chartered bus carrying 51 Amtrak passengers had to be evacuated around 2 p.m. after it caught fire on I-55 about an hour out of New Orleans, Louisiana State Police confirms.
The passengers were originally supposed to take the No. 58 Amtrak train from New Orleans to Memphis, but since some of the railroad in Louisiana is flooded, Amtrak said they put them on a bus to Jackson where they would be able to link up with the train.
“A couple of us smelled smoke inside the bus and there was a young lady that was honking her horn and trying to get the attention of the driver,” said passenger Matthew Dunn who was traveling home to Memphis after a vacation in New Orleans.
Dunn said the honking finally got the bus driver’s attention and she pulled over in St. John the Baptist Parish.
“As she was pulling over, the smoke was getting worse and worse and everything and we noticed flames starting to come from the back,” Dunn said.
An Amtrak spokesman initially described the episode as a minor mechanical issue, but Dunn disagrees.
“I am very tolerant, I know things happen and everything, but this was anything other than minor,” Dunn said.
Dunn said passengers were able to salvage some of their luggage, but everything in the cabin was lost, including his birth certificate, passport and an heirloom cross.
WREG sent Amtrak Dunn’s pictures from the scene and they released the following statement:
“Please know we will provide information to these customers on how to file claims and we will certainly apologize to them when they reach our station, or by phone. We are happy to report there were no injuries.”
Federal transportation data shows that Hotard, the company that operates the bus, is rated “satisfactory.”
The company logged 18 crashes in the last two years with a fleet of more than 200 buses.
Hotard did not return multiple emails from WREG.