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January 20, 2010

MARC news could be worse

It was another miserable morning on MARC -- with switch problems and locomotive malfunctions plaguing the morning commute on the Penn Line.

Yet it  could have been worse.

MTA spokeswoman Angela White reports that this morning's woes were the result of a switch problem at  Edgewood, which forced a northbound MARC train to stop there while an Amtrak train carried passengers on to Aberdeen and Perryvile. Switch problems are an Amtrak issue, so  MARC deserves a pass on that one.

The engine problem occurred near BWI when a malfunctioning water level sensor caused one of  MARC's diesel engines to automatically turn off. This is mainly good news because of what wasn't the problem.

White went on to explain that the problem was not a recurrence of the previous day's failure of one of  MARC's four recently repaired AEM-7 electric locomotives, which until recent monthhs had been out of service -- putting the entire  burden on MARC's six less-than-reliable HHP electric engines. 

And she held out  hope that the addition of MARC's new MP 36 diesels would help relieve some problems and speed the retirement of some of MARC's older diesel engines.

At this time, we consider yesterday’s malfunction of the AEM 7 an isolated incident.  The locomotive had not experienced any problems and had been running very well since it returned.  AMTRAK is working with us to resolve the issue.

Fortunately, the MP 36 diesels are coming on line and currently we have 2 of them running in the midst of their 30-day evaluation.  While the old diesels used last summer could fill in when the HHP’s went down, the MP 36 diesels are powerful enough to pull the Penn Line trains with close to the full complement of passenger cars usually attached to the electrics.  

Since the health of MARC's locomotives essentially controls the lives of its commuters, perhaps  the MTA should come up wiith a way for riders to more closely track the health of each of these engines  -- much in the way that followers of the Baltimore Ravens can get reports on the health of players. Why can't MARC put a roster of locomotives on line with updates on which are available to play and which are on the disabled list and why?

It might not improve MARC riders' commuting experience, but  it would give them something new to bet on while stranded on the tracks.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:45 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: MARC train


I just wonder why, when the state was purchasing new diesel locomotives, they didn't buy a few electric locomotives.

COMMENT: The new diesels can be used on all three MARC lines; electrics can be used only on the Penn Line. It's also not a simple matter of going to the locomotive store and ordering a dozen diesels and a dozen electrics. These have to be built from scratch by separate manufacturers at an enornous cost -- MTD.

"the MP 36 diesels are powerful enough to pull the Penn Line trains with close to the full complement of passenger cars usually attached to the electrics"

"Close to"? So that mean they can't pull the full complement needed for the Penn Line? If so, then capacity-wise, we're no better off than the old diesels which had to run one car short and were severely over-crowded.

Also, I have been on two severely overcrowded in two days and still ask: is there a point at which MARC should not allow passengers to board? When the vestibules are stuffed with passengers this is a real safety hazard that needs to be addressed, and it is only a matter of time before this bites the MTA badly.

I'm sure they will vaguely claim some "security" reason to not give engine specific data on availability and operations...

Although I'm sure we rail enthusiasts would love the ability to track certain elusive locomotives, the fact remains that I think the shop force's time would be better spent actually working on the locomotives than sitting at a computer and logging in routine work for all the world to see. Besides, then they'd have to explain the concepts of such things as 91-day inspections, long-term overhaul, etc. And I'm sure some folks would be demanding to know why "locomotive" 7100 isn't in use more, never mind that it doesn't have a prime mover anymore, only a power generator for train electricity--even though it still looks like a locomotive.......

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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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