Here's what went wrong on light rail
If you were one of the hundreds of light rail riders left waiting at stations this weekend, there's a good chance you still don't know the reasons because the Maryland Transit Administration just doesn't know how to communicate with its customers.
Don't feel too bad. The MTA doesn't even communicate internally. It took MTA spokesman Terry Owens most of the day to ferret out basic information such as where a train broke down. Until the operations people start informing the public affairs people about problems before the media inquiries come in, the MTA is going to continue to be a dysfuctional organization.
Anyway, here's what went down Saturday, according to Owens:
First, MTA police received a report about 2:30 p.m. of a body lying across the tracks near Lutherville. The report ultimately could not be verified, but it prompted a slowdown of the trains to 20 mph, Owens said, as officers walked the track to check out the report. In view of the fatal accident that occurred on the light rail tracks last year, the sensitivity is understandable.
Then, just before 5 p.m., a train hit a branch that was lying across the tracks north of the Falls Road station. The branch became jammed in the train's undercarriage and had to be extracted. Meanwhile another train had to be diverted to pick up the passengers -- a maneuver that took 45 minutes or so. Meanwhile, the system had to go to single-tracking around the stalled train. Then the MTA had to inspect the track and make sure it was safe. That takes time.
When something like that goes wrong, it can have a cascading effect on the entire system. That's understood.
What isn't clear is why it would still be affecting traffic in Linthicum and North Linthicum between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., where rides reported that no northbound trains came by between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. According to Owens, the MTA sent out email alerts, which is a great way to reach its regular commuters but a lousy way to contact the occasional riders who use the system on weekends. At least some of the riders missed a Government Mule concert as a result.
Those are riders who are unlikely to use the light rail system again.
"We certainly wouldn't want anyone to give up on the system based on one bad experience," Owens said.
Hey,dude, get real! They missed Government Mule. Would you go back to a system that made you miss Government Mule?
Owens said the MTA did many things right over Artscape weekend. He said extra people were called in and extra cars added to trains. There was a bus bridge in reserve Sunday, when service apparently went smoothly. But on Saturday, the MTA couldn't do something as basic as spreading the word to its stations that there was a problem on the line.
Apparently the MTA was still undecided today whether its performance Saturday merited an apology to light rail riders. Owens said such a gesture "might be forthcoming."
Poor MTA. So slow in so many ways.
What should have happened is this: The person in charge of light rail should have had a memo on MTA Administrator Ralign Wells' desk Monday morning telling him just how badly the system performed Saturday, with a draft of an apology letter ready for his signature. If that memo wasn't there, it says something about the culture at the MTA that needs changing.