Much ado about MARC seats
Let me first assure all of you riders out in MARC land that I love you and I feel your pain as you endure the unspeakable agonies of llong-distance commuting.
But try as I might to work up waves of sympathy for your plight, I can't see what all the fuss is about when it comes to the seats on the double-decker cars recently acquired from Virginia Railway Express.
After receiving several complaints about the seats on the new rail cars on MARC's Penn Line, I decided the matter deserved investigation. So on Monday afternoon I took a trip on the MARC line from Penn Station to Union Station and back so that I could subject the new seats to a personal rump test.
There were none of the new cars on the 4:50 train I caught at Penn Station, so I took the opportunity to refresh my recollection of the comfort level of MARC's older cars. They are, in fact, superb. Riders of the Maryland Transit Administration's other modes of travel would be envious.
On the return journey, I found one of the new cars with the seats I'd heard so much about. The car was almost full, despite the fact there were seats availlable in the older cars farther down the track. None of the passengers I observed was obviously writhing in agony, so I sat down in the aisle seat next to a fellow passenger who occupied the window seat.
There is, indeed, less leg room than in the older cars. Nor is there an arm rest between the seats. But at 5-foot-11, I found there too be ample room for my creaky, middle-aged knees. The lack of an arm rest was hardly noticeable. The comfort level was perhapa a little less than the older seats, but the seats were hardly the instruments of medieval torture some readers made them out to be. It might have become uncomfortable on a trans-Atlantic flight, but for a 40-minute train ride between Washington and Baltimore, it was perfectly adequate.
Bill McIntyre of Charles Village reached a similar conclusion. At 6-foot-2 he would seem to have every reason to complain about leg room, but he chose a nearby ex-VRE car over the more distant older cars.
McIntyre said the oolder cars are probably a little more comfortable but said the new ones are "not bad." He dismissed the complaints about the newer seats.
"They say the squeaky wheel gets the most oil, so some people tend to exaggerate," he said.
Ben Larson of Ednor Gardens said the new cars are "pretty much the same" as the old. He said the new seats certainly beat having to stand.
"Adding new cars is a good thing. If they're not perfect, that's fine," he said.
As much as it pains me to do so, I have to conclude that MTA officials made the right call in getting more seating capacity onto the Penn Line as soon as they could rather than sending the VRE cars out for an expensive and time-consuming retrofitting. Those who find the new MARC seats unbearable ought to take a few rides on the light rail line to regain some perspective.