MARC experiment to go on despite glitch
MARC's first experiment with combining two new diesel locomotives to pull a nine-car double-decker train didn't turn out so well, but the Maryland Transit Administration isn't giving up on the idea.
On Thursday, the Maryland Transit Administration for the first time tried teaming up two of its new MP-36 diesel engines to haul a fully loaded train on the Penn Line. All went well with the Baltimore-bound train until it hit BWI, where it developed an air pressure problem, said MTA spokesman Terry Owens.
Owens said the mechanical problem took only five minutes to fix, but delays in unloading passengers from the center track took another 10 minutes. By the time it left BWI, the MARC train had lost its place in Amtrak's orderly rotation and had to chug into Penn Station at 30 mph. It ended up arriving at the station about 45 minutes late.
MARC had been trying out the two-engine configuration as a solution for a vexing problem its has been having with its electric locomotives. According to MTA Administrator Ralign Wells, the electric locomotives have difficulty pulling the weight of nine double-decker cars when also trying to keep the air conditioning going in hot weather.
The idea was to add power rather than reduce capacity. Normally, the electrics have more pulling power than the diesel engines, but the idea was to combine the strength of two diesels to haul the maximum load.
Owens said technicians have determined that the air pressure failure was not related to the weight of the load the diesels were pulling.
"The test was considered a success," he said.
He said the experiment continued this morning with a successful early morning run (though not, he admitted, under high heat conditions). Owens said the tests of the two-diesel plan will continue next week.
The spokesman said that with the addition of at least six new diesel engine and the rehabilitation of three of four of MARC's long-disabled AEM-7 electric engines, the railroad service now has the flexibility to experiment with different train configurations.
That's good news, but better news would be temperatures below 85 for the rest of the summer. Keep dreaming.
Meanwhile, the MTA would do well to keep its passengers in the loop as it works to deal with this problem of electric pulling power. Instead of keeping them in the dark, as is standard practice, why not lay out the facts for them and poll them on their preferences?
For instance, if it's a choice of carrying less seat capacity or taking a chance that the locomotive might die between Washington and Baltimore, why not ask the riders their choice. I suspect most would choose a jam-packed train over one that stalls out, but the feeling they were consulted could make it easier to bear the Third World conditions.
Treating MARC riders like adult humans rather than sheep: There's a revolutionary thought.