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Deland, Florida

Neil Bolton boarded an Amtrak Auto Train at 4 p.m. Sunday in Sanford headed for New Jersey.

By 10 p.m., Bolton, a textile businessman from Naples, and more than 200 other passengers were still sitting at the train station with no clue when they were going to get to their destinations.

"We were told there is a sinkhole on the tracks north of DeLand, and we are waiting to be diverted to Lakeland," said an upset Bolton. "Everybody is stuck here, and we all feel like prisoners."

The sinkhole formed Sunday around 4 p.m. under the CSX main tracks north of DeLand and brought a southbound train from New York to a halt, forcing 267 passengers to be bused to their destinations along their way to Miami, and sent scheduled runs on detours, said Amtrak spokeswoman Tracy Connell.

CSX officials could not be reached late Sunday night to learn more about the size of the sinkhole or how long it will be before the tracks are reopened. An after-hours answering machine for CSX Transportation was full and did not accept messages.

The sinkhole, which is believed to be near Palatka, halted the train from New York and also forced Amtrak officials to divert trains headed west and north, like the one Bolton boarded.

"Train 97, which left New York for Miami, is stopped just north of DeLand near the sinkhole," Connell said Sunday night. "The passengers on that train are now being bused to their destinations along the way to Miami."

The sudden sinkhole affected five scheduled train runs, including the train from New York, Connell said.

A Sunset Limited train leaving Orlando bound for Los Angeles with 130 passengers did not run, and its passengers were bused from Orlando to New Orleans where they will board another train for Los Angeles.

Bolton's Auto Train, carrying 365 people from Sanford to Lorton, Va., the Silver Star with 235 people to NewYork and the Silver Meteor taking 215 people to New York, had to be rerouted via Lakeland on their way north, Connell said.

"We are doing our best to accommodate our passengers as best we can," Connell said. "We are sorry about the delay, but hopefully we can get everyone to where they are going."

But for Bolton and his fellow passengers, the inconvenience hurt more than just their patience.

"We are going to miss business appointments," said Bolton. "If I am lucky, I will get there (New Jersey) by tomorrow night."

Sinkholes occur when sand or soil beneath the surface begins to erode and falls into underlying limestone cavities, causing the surface to collapse. Several factors may contribute to the collapse, including drought, excessive water pumping, construction or heavy rain.
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