A major problem in Amtrak's Northeast Corridor service the morning of Sept. 24 kept hundreds of New Yorkers from taking the train to join a massive antiwar demonstration held in Washington, DC that day to protest the US occupation of Iraq. Lt. R.P. Collins of the Amtrak police put the number of stranded war opponents inside New York's Pennsylvania Station at 500-600.

After police officers thwarted two spontaneous demonstrations in the station, a number of protesters left the station to hold a picket line on Seventh Avenue and then marched to Union Square.

The delay, which Amtrak employees attributed to a power outage on the overhead electric lines between New York and Trenton, NJ, halted southbound trains out of Penn Station starting at about 6 am. Service gradually began to resume at 10 am, but Amtrak employees said continued delays would prevent most of the protesters from reaching DC in time for the rally and march. The standard time from New York to Washington is about three and a half hours. The protest was scheduled to start at 11:30 am.

"I am angry," said longtime West Side activist Fran Geteles. "This is just another sign that our infrastructure is going to hell while we spend money on this war." Some protesters felt the timing of the delay was suspicious, but most agreed with Geteles. "We need more money for trains," said another West Side activist, Lila Braine.

Shortly after 8 am, many protesters began chanting: "Make levees, not war" and "Peace now." Amtrak police officers headed by Lt. Collins approached the activists. "This is private property, owned by a private corporation, and you can't make noise here," he said. Antonia Cedrone, who served as a legal observer during the 2004 protests at the Republican National Convention in New York, challenged Collins' authority to keep protesters from chanting. Collins told Cedrone that if she continued to chant she would be arrested for disorderly conduct and obstructing pedestrian traffic.

Amtrak, founded in 1971, is nominally a private corporation, but its board of directors is appointed by the US president and is subject to confirmation by the Senate. The total federal subsidy to Amtrak for the next fiscal year is more than $1.17 billion.

Another group of travelers, many identifying themselves as "grandmothers against war," began chanting about an hour later. More than a dozen police, backed by several National Guard soldiers, surrounded them and convinced them to stop. Later Lt. Collins was overheard saying on his cell phone: "I've got a lot of protesters here, but they're mostly orderly."

By 10 am most of the activists had decided they would be unable to attend the DC demonstration. Many dispersed, but more than 60 went to the corner of Seventh Avenue and 34th Street, across from Macy's, and started a spirited moving picket line. Within a half hour, police surrounded the group with barricades; at least three vehicles arrived, along with one officer on horseback. But the police didn't interfere with the impromptu protest, and they provided an escort when the activists decided to march down the sidewalk on Broadway to Union Square park. The protesters arrived at about noon, joining Camp Casey New York, an ongoing peace vigil in the park.

A reporter and camera person from Channel 4 news videotaped the picket line and interviewed several participants.

Many passersby expressed agreement with the protesters at the picket line and march. Some chanted along, while tourists on a passing double-decker waved and yelled. A lone heckler, a white man who appeared to be in his sixties, told the demonstrators to "leave the country."