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January 19, 2010

MARC meltdown is bad; reason is worse

The news from MARC today was bad in a typical kind of way -- three canceled trains after a locomotive breakdown on the Penn Line, delays of 30-90 minutes. Nothing veteran MARC riders haven't lived through before.

What's  ominous is the details: The breakdown came in one of the AEM-7 electric locomotives that has only recently been returned to the tracks after several years in Amtrak's Wilmington shop. Late last year, Amtrak found the  supposed fix, and began reurning the supposedly operative engines to  MARC.

According to Maryland Transit Administration spokeswoman Angela White, the cause of this morning's breakdown has not yet been determined. The AEM-7 has been delivered to Amtrak's Washington yard. MARC riders had better hope the problem is not related to the  AEM-7's previous electrical woes. Otherwise it might be a long winter and spring on the Penn Line.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:56 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: MARC train


The MARC and its consistent inconsistency is why I moved closer to DC. I am happy to pay more rent because I am no longer stress about my commute from DC to West Baltimore. So long to bad rubbish!

There was another issue this morning (1/20) around the same time. The 7AM departure from Penn Station left a few minutes late (no explanation, other than "not ready for boarding"). As we were boarding the 7AM train, the PA system announced that the 715AM train was still stuck in Perryville and instructed all those riders to board the 7AM.

The 7AM was half a car short (the first car was a single level, rather than double decker) and it was CROWDED. But, I wonder about the folks who got to Penn Station around 712AM -- too late to catch the 7AM and the 715AM still sitting in Perryville.

I know MD in a major budget crisis but scarcely a week goes by when the Penn Line -- the most traveled -- doesn't have some sort of crisis that results in a big delay and/or overcrowding.

In the winter, we have switch problems, apparently because MD doesn't use de-icers like in Boston (my hometown). In fall, leaves on the tracks cause issues. In the fall, winter, and spring, water main breaks cause track flooding. In the summer, we get overheating and engine failures all the time (and sometimes end up sitting in site of BWI for more than 2 hours in August heat with no AC; the only ventilation being the open side doors as the windows are sealed).

The addition of the ticketing kiosks has made riding MARC easier. The recent delays, not so enjoyable.

We are paying the price for GOV Glendenning's 'Smart growth Dumb Transit "
administration and GOV Ehrlich's benign neglect, spend no real money improving MARC administration.
Look at New Jersey Transit to see what a real pro-commuter rail state can do when it sets its mind to it.
MARC has long needed new electric locomotives and when the requisite equipment is on hand some trains should run from Wilmington, DE to Washington, DC so that the northern most part of Maryland on the North East Corridor has commuter rail service. The MARC Perryville station attracts commuters to Washington, DC from as far north as lower New Jersey!

Many years ago MARC ran trains to Philadelphia. As you know, MARC costs are not fully recouped by the passenger fares and are subsidized by Maryland. When MARC requested Pennsylvania and Delaware to pay their share of MARC costs for their residents using MARC, those two states refused. Therefore, MARC terminated that service to those states and Perryville ended up as the terminus.

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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.

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