Where the light rail speakers are (and aren't)
That raised the question of where the MTA has working speakers and where it does not. After a request from The Sun, Owens provided a list:I checked into the stations with PA’s. Here is the list.
Stations with working P.A. systems:
Cromwell, North Linthicum, Patapsco, Camden, Woodberry, Ferndale, Nursery Road, Cherry Hill, Coldspring, Lutherville, Timonium, Linthicum, Baltimore Highlands, Westport, Center Street, North Avenue, Mt. Washington, Timonium.
Stations with P.A.s that were not working as of July 1 (MTA does monthly service checks.)
Stations without PA’s:
1. Hunt Valley
2. Pepper Rd
6. BWI Business District
7. BWI Airport
8. Penn Station
Some aspects of these lists boggle the mind. I put the following questions to Owens and in some cases got answers:
1. The most crucial stations for Artscape, an event that draws some 350,000 people over a three-day weekend, are Cultural Center and Mount Royal. The MTA knew they weren't working well before the festival. Why didn't it take steps to fix them?
ANSWER: "We were working with finite resources," Owens said. He addded that the MTA made safety its "first priority" and concentrated its maintenance resources on locomotives, cars, trains and the like.
2. Lexington Market is one of the busiest -- if not the busiest -- light rail stop. How can the MTA go without fixing these crucial P.A. speakers?
ANSWER: Essentially the same answer as 1. "In the list of priorities, they are not at the top of the list," he said.
3. Among the stops without speakers are BWI and Hunt Valley -- the northern and one of two southern ends of the system. How could it have designed a system without coverage as those key hubs? And why isn't there a speaker at Penn Station?
ANSWER: The light rail system was built in stages and during those stages "money was just an issue."
4. Finally, the stations at which the MTA reports there are working speakers include Mount Washington, Woodberry and North Linthicum, where readers report having waited 45 minutes to more than an hour Saturday without hearing any announcements. Getting There went back to those readers and reconfirmed their accounts. Is the MTA contending that these readers are misrepresenting the facts?
ANSWER: In a clarification of a previous answer, Owens said that while the MTA knows announcements were made Saturday, it does not know specifically what was said and when because the MTA does not keep logs of such announcements.
5. What, specifically, did the MTA announce over its P.A. system Saturday and when? In particular, what was said to riders at North Linthicum between 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
ANSWER: Owens said the agency can't say with certainty that any announcements were made during that hour.
6. What were the times that northbound trains arrived at North Linthicum Saturday evening between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. and why were the earlier problems not resolved by then.
ANSWER: Owens, who was at a MARC station and talking on his cell phone, said he did not have that information available.
7. Where was the bus bridge set up Saturday and when and how many people did it serve?
ANSWER: Though he had earlier mentioned the bus bridge as an example of the MTA's responsiveness, Owens said he did not know.
Some comments: The MTA needs to wake up and realize that communications with people on the platforms -- especially in very hot or very cold weather or late at night -- is a safety issue. Failure to grasp that was part of the reason for the severity of Amtrak's lapses during the "hell train" incident of June 21. It's good that the MTA is moving to install a working P.A. system. It's a shame it will take two years. In the meantime, the MTA needs an interim plan. The goal should be to reach every station with news of a disruption on the line within 20 minutes.
The failure to keep a log of communications is disgraceful. Its absence means top managers of the MTA would be left in the dark if they inquire about service (and it suggests they aren't holding operating personnel accountable). And if there is ever a need to reconstruct what happened around the time of a crash or other serious incident, the absence of such records could hinder the investigation.
Finally, one would hope the lessons from the penny-wise, pound-foolish record of the Central Light Rail Line are fully absorbed in the development of the Red Line, Purple Line and any other transit projects in Maryland.