baltimoresun.com

October 20, 2011

MARC making big rail car purchase

Details are still sketchy, but the agenda of the Board of Public Works shows that the Maryland Transit Administration has reached a contract agreement with Bombardier Transit Corp. of Montreal to provide 54 multi-level rail cars for the MARC commuter train service at a cost of $153 million.

MTA spokesman Terry Owens said  MARC intends to retire 38 of its older rail cars and to expand its current fleet by 16. Owens said the agency will not discuss further details of the deal until the board acts on the contract.

 Delivery will not necessarily come soon. In past MARC procurements, it has taken multiple years to go from purchase agreement to the start of actual service. But the MTA said that by piggybacking on an order by New Jersey Transit, it will cut an estimated nine months to a year off the procurement process.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:21 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: MARC train
        

September 19, 2011

New Carrollton choice is small plus for Baltimore

Baltimore didn't have a huge stake in the O'Malley administration's decision on which transit center would become the new home of the Department of Housing and Community Development, but it did have some interest in the outcome. And from a strictly Baltimore-centric point of view, Gov. Martin O'Malley made the right choice.

Of the candidates in Prince George's, New Carrollton is the site with the best links with Baltimore. The transit center the includes a station on the MARC Penn Line, which would make it quite feasible for a department employee to commute from Baltimore, Halethorpe, the BWI area or Odenton via train.

Some of the other possible choices, including the Branch Avenue and Naylor Road Metro stations, would have presented difficult commutes for Baltimore-area workers. Laurel would have been OK, but it's on the slower Camden Line, which offers fewer trains than the Penn.

The department will move to New Carrollton from Crownsville, which will be an inconvenience for department employees who live in Annapolis or on the Eastern Shore. But department employees who live in Baltimore, who now have little choice but to drive, will now have the MARC option. So there will be winners as well as losers.

There's little doubt the No. 1 factor driving the decision is politics. Prince George's has been wanting a slice of the state employment pie for some time. But the transit advantages of the choice are not to be dismissed. And if Prince George's is going to have a growth center, it's best that it be accessible for people throughout Central Maryland. New Carrollton accomplishes that.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:47 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train
        

August 15, 2011

Delegation members announce grants for Baltimore

A new Charm City Circulator route to Fort McHenry and a road project intended to reconnect West Baltimore communities divided by the "Highway to Nowhere" will receive federal funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation, four members of the Maryland congressional delegation announced.

U.S. Sens. Barbara A. Mikuslki and Benjamin L. Cadin, along with U.S. Reps. Elijah Cummings and John Sarbanes said the grants will provide $1.6 million for the new Circulator route and $1.7 million for the reconfiguration of the Fulton Avenue bridge in the part of the  U.S. 40 corridor known as the Highway to Nowhere.

The Circulator grant is expected to help the city get its free "Star Spangled" route in operation in time for the bicentennial observance of the War of 1812. The new route is expected to run from the Inner Harbor to the fort along Fort Avenue on a year-round basis. The grant will be used over three years and will cover 65 percent of the route's cost.

The West Baltimore project will reconfigure the five-lane Fulton bridge to integrate it with a pedestrian-bicycle network and to add landscaping and storm water management improvements. According to the delegation members, the project had been launched but was put on hold when funds ran short.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:52 PM | | Comments (4)
        

July 22, 2011

Blazing heat brings MARC meltdown

Compared with recent years, the Maryland Transit Administration hasn't been doing too badly with its MARC service this summer -- until Friday.

With temperatures soaring to well over 100 degrees, the MARC system was plagues by multiple equipment failures that delayed trains up to 75 minutes. The MTA reported that the electric wire that power the trains on the Penn Line were sagging in the heat, forcing single-track operations between Washington and New Carrollton. An Amtrak train that became disabled at New Carrollton had been removed by 6 p.m.

In addition to the usual hot-weather restrictions on the Camden and Brunswick lines, a heat order was issued for the Penn Line holding speeds to 80 mph.

Penn Line Train 443, the 4:50pm departure from Penn Station to Washington, was cancelled, leaving passengers to wait for the 5:20 and 5:25pm trains. The 3:23 p.m. and 4:10 trains out of Washington were running more than 50 minutes late. The 4:20 p.m. out of Washington left Union Station about a half-hour late and was approaching New Carrollton at a crawl, a rider reported. By the time it reached Halethorpe it was running 75 minutes behind schedule. It finally arrived in Baltimore shortly after 6:30 p.m. -- completing a trip of more than two hours.

The 3:30 p.m. Camden Line train out of Baltimore was running a half-hour late as it approached Dorsey on heat-restricted lines that could cause further delays.

With temperatures this high, cascading troubles can be expected through the evening.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:07 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

July 7, 2011

MARC Penn Line train breaks down in heat

For the second time this week, a MARC Penn Line train has wilted in the summer's heat, leaving passengers sweltering on a stalled train, ride Danielle Shapiro reports.

Shapiro said the northbound train's engine apparently gave out just outside Odenton and left passengers stuck without air-conditioning for about 35 minutes this evening. She said that as of 6:15 p.m. it appeared to be starting again.

Two days ago another Penn Line Train departing Washington stalled out and left passengers stranded for about 40 minutes, Shapiro said.

Summer is historically the time of year that brings MARC to its knees. The Maryland Transit Administration had made schedule and equipment changes in the hope of alleviating such problems, but the recent incidents raise questions about whether those measures are working.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:13 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: MARC train
        

June 24, 2011

MARC riders' group rejects new MTA web site

The negative reactions to the Maryland Transit Administration's new web site design just keep coming in -- and not just from professional malcontents.

The following criticque comes from Rafi Guroian, chairman of the MARC Riders Advisory Council and an eminently reasonable person. The MTA ought to be listening.

I strongly echo the poster's criticism of the new site. For MARC riders, it's a big step backwards, and I say this as a computer professional who deals on a daily basis with users who resist change even though it's necessary. In this case, it's a step beyond not liking something new.

Continue reading "MARC riders' group rejects new MTA web site" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:18 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: MARC train, MTA
        

May 6, 2011

Camden Line riders mourn veteran conductor

Passengers on the Camden Line were saddened this week at the news that longtime conductor Eric Wolf died Tuesday morning of an apparent heart attack shortly after his train arrived at Washington's Union Station.

According to a statement issued by the Maryland Transit Administration, Wolf (right) had been an employee of CSX Transportation and its predecessor railroads for 38 of his 57 years.


Dave Johnson, chief customer communications officer for MARC, called Wolf "a consummate professional"

"Eric was more than a conductor--he was a jovial, humorous guy who made it a priority to make his passengers smile every day," Johnson said. (A longer version of Johnson's statement, with reaction from MARC riders, is available here.)

 

 

Continue reading "Camden Line riders mourn veteran conductor" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:25 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: MARC train
        

May 4, 2011

Did MTA update its MARC phone line?

Jason Ewell, manager of program services at the National Federation of the Blind, has discovered a glitch in the Maryland Transit Administration's phone service listings for MARC trains. It appears the MTA might not have updated its information when it changed its schedule on the Penn Line earlier this year.

Here's Ewell's account:


Just letting you know that nearly two months after the change in the MARC train schedule, the MTA telephone system has still not been updated. The light rail schedule also does not work properly and hasn't for many months. Is there any way you could ask MTA officials why they can't make these simple fixes to their system? I have complained several times to the MTA call center employees, but of course all they can do is pass the complaints along.

 

Continue reading "Did MTA update its MARC phone line?" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:05 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Light rail, MARC train, MTA
        

May 2, 2011

Former train cleaner: MARC riders were slobs

A recent report that the Maryland Transit Administration had admonished MARC riders to drink responsibly while aboard the trains brought a question from Vincent Toni of Street in Harford County: Why are riders allowed to eat and drink aboard MARC anyway?

Toni comes to that issue from  a perspective that is seldom heard from -- that of the people who have to clean up the mess. The retired carman, whose job it was to clean MARC's passenger cars at the end of the day, said he still recalls the messes made by riders -- peanut shells, empty bottles, even soiled diapers. Why, he wondered, are MASRC riders allowed to eat and drink aboard the trains when riders of buses are not?

Interesting question.

Toni has yet another unflattering memory of the people he used to clean up after: "I'd put extra rolls of toilet paper there and they'd steal them."

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:06 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: MARC train
        

April 26, 2011

Surprise! MARC performance isn't so bad

The most recent numbers for MARC on-time performance are looking a lot better than they were last year. As of April 25, according to the Maryland Transit Administration, the Penn Line's OTP year to date is 93 percent. That's despite one of the most radical schedule changes in MARC history.

Meanwhile the Camden Line as at 90 percent year to date and the Brunswick Line at 89 percent. That might be short of stellar but it doesn't stink -- at least compared with where MARC was not too long ago.

Of course the real test will be how MARC performs during the hot summer months, which in the mid-Atlantic means May to September. That's been MARC's downfall before.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:53 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train
        

April 7, 2011

MARC, commuter buses to run during shutdown

If the federal government shuts down because of the current budget impasses, as seems increasingly likely, MARC and commuter bus service will continue on a normal schedule -- at least at first.

The Maryland Transit Administration says that if ridership levels plummet, it might decide to reduce service. But transit riders who work for  non-government employers in Washington -- as well as reverse commuters -- apparently will not be forced into cars because of a shutdown.

 

Continue reading "MARC, commuter buses to run during shutdown" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:09 PM | | Comments (1)
        

April 4, 2011

Work on new Halethorpe MARC station starts

The Maryland Transit Administration has launched a $21 million project to replace the obsolete Halethorpe MARC station, one of the busiest on the Penn Line, with a modern facility.

Gov. Martin O'Malley joined Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and local lawmakers Monday for a ground-breaking at the old Halethorpe depot.

O'Malley said the new station would include new  and longer platforms, ramps, elevators and a pedestrian bridge. It will also include a new kiss-and-ride lot.

Continue reading "Work on new Halethorpe MARC station starts" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:52 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: MARC train
        

March 28, 2011

Holocaust bill OKd after compromise with railroad

A bill intended to put pressure on a French railroad and its U.S. subsidiary to cooperate with Holocaust survivors in efforts to account for the deportation of about 70,000 Jews and others from France to German death camps during World War II has passed both houses of the General Assembly.

Del. Samuel I.  "Sandy" Rosenberg, the House sponsor of the legislation, said the House bill was heavily amended to reflect the results of negotiations between advocates for the deportees and representatives of the French government-owned railroad SNCF and its Rockville-based affiliate Keolis America.

Rosenberg said the Senate bill passed a version close to the original form of the bill, which SNCF and Keolis had said would preclude it from competing to a contract to operate the MARC Brunswick and Camden lines when CSX Transportation relinquishes that role. But the Baltimore Democrat said he expected the Senate to agree to the amendments worked out in the House. He said those changes had been agreed to by the railroad's lobbyist in Annapolis.

Continue reading "Holocaust bill OKd after compromise with railroad" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:35 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train
        

March 22, 2011

MTA says new MARC schedule going well so far

The Maryland Transit Administration says operations on the MARC Penn Line have gone well despite some "growing pains" since the commuter rail line made extensive changes to its schedule March 14.

The MTA said commuters are taking some time in adjusting to the changes, which have added two trains each during the  morning an evening rush hours.

The MTA's records paint a more mixed picture, however, showing that MARC has had a mix of very good days and awful days since the change was made.

In a statement posted on its web site,  the MTA said some its trains may appear to be "standing room only" in some cars despite the availability of seats in other cars. The agency said that after receiving complaints about its 4:20 p.m. train leaving Union Station, it found 39 riders standing in three cars but 55 seats available in another two cars.

The MTA said the most crowded train is No. 517, the 6:30 a.m. departure from Perryville, which reaches Penn Station at 7:15 a.m. The MTA urged riders to consider taking Train 415, which leaves Penn Station 10 minutes earlier.

Continue reading "MTA says new MARC schedule going well so far" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:40 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train
        

March 10, 2011

MARC to launch new schedule Monday

The Maryland Transit Administration will launch a new schedule on its Penn Line Monday, adding eight trains to the schedule in an effort to alleviate overcrowding and improve on-time performance on the Amtrak-operated Penn Line.

The new schedule, which has been in the planning stages for more than a year, is intended to relieve some of the strain on its locomotive fleet by using smaller train sets running at more frequent intervals.

Terry Owens, an MTA spokesman, said MARC officials have been meeting with riders at Penn Line  stations since Feb. 28 and have received a generally  favorable reaction to the changes. The Camden and  Brunswick lines, operated by CSX, will not be affected.

 

Continue reading "MARC to launch new schedule Monday" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:08 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train
        

February 21, 2011

Hearing on Holocaust-MARC bill postponed

Del. Sandy Rosenberg reports that the House hearing on the bill he has proposed to require extensive disclosures about the French national railway's World War II activities while under Nazi control if one of its subsidiaries wants to bid for a MARC contract has been postponed from Wednesday until March 3.

The subsidiary, Keolis America, is considered a leading contender for a contract to operate the MARC Camden and Brunswick lines after CSX relinquishes that role. But proponents of the legislation contend its majority owner, the French railway SNCF, has failed to make amends for its role in transporting Jews to Nazi death camps during the German occupation.

With the schedule change, the House and Senate committees considering the bill will hold their hearings on the same day.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:32 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train
        

February 10, 2011

MARC for marks? Perryville service may expand

Rafi Guroian, chairman of the MARC Riders Advisory Council, said one of the changes that may be in the works as part of the Maryland Transit Administration's revision of the Penn Line schedule is expanded service to the new Hollywood Casino in Perryville.

Guroian said there have been discussions with MARC officials about adding a northbound train in morning and a southbound train in the evening to let gamblers reach the slots without having to get on Interstate 95.

The key to the plan could be whether Penn National, the casino's owner, can put together a shuttle bus service between Hollywood and the Perryville MARC station. For the state, it could be seen as an investment. It would have to subsidize the expanded MARC service but could win back much of that money in the taxes on whatever increased gambling results.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:23 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: MARC train
        

Amtrak, MARC traffic resumes after pedestrian strike

MARC and Amtrak trains have resumed operations through the Halethorpe area after being held up when an Acela train struck a pedestrian on the tracks near there late this morning.

Danelle Hunter, an Amtrak spokeswoman, said the person -- whom she described as a "trespasser" -- was hit about 11:27 a.m.

Baltimore County Fire Department spokeswoman Elise Armacost said call came in at 11:41 a.m. and the victim was taken by ground to Shock-Trauma. No word on age or gender. Hunter said that to the best of her knowledge the victim was still alive. She said there was no indication yet whether the strike was an accident or a suicide attempt.

Hunter said the Washington-to-New York Acela train, with 121 passengers aboard, was being held at the scene as of about 12:45 p.m. But she said the tracks have been reopened to other traffic.

Maryland Transit  Administration spokesman Terry Owens said two MARC Penn Line trains were delayed by the incident, but he said MARC traffic resumed service through the area at restricted speeds shortly after noon.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:16 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads, MARC train
        

January 31, 2011

Bus, Metro riders' top gripe is on-time performance

Lateness was the No. 1 concern of riders on the Maryland Transit Administration's local bus system and Metro subway -- whether they were satisfied with the service or not --  according to a survey conducted by the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance.

The group's interim  report on the first three months of its "Rate Your Ride" survey found that Metro customers are significantly more pleased with their service than bus riders. On a scale in which a 1 indicated excellence and a 4 "major problems," riders rated the Metro 2.0 and the bus service 2.8.

The alliance received more than 4,000 responses to its survey via its web page and text messages. While  it sought responses from riders of all the MTA's  services, the group said it did not have enough responses from riders of MARC commuter trains, the light rail system and Mobility cabs and vans to include them in their results in the interim report.

Continue reading "Bus, Metro riders' top gripe is on-time performance" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:01 AM | | Comments (13)
        

January 26, 2011

MTA curbs bus services; light rail delayed

The Maryland Transit Administration has suspended local bus service and expects it to resume at 5 a.m. Thursday. It has canceled all commuter bus services provided by contractors Thursday.

The agency said service on the light rail line is running 30 minutes late and is not stopping at the Woodberry station. It said the Metro has been running on schedule.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:41 PM | | Comments (1)
        

MARC service canceled on Camden, Brunswick lines

The Maryland Transit Administration has canceled service Thursday on the MARC Camden and Brunswick lines as a result of Wednesday's snow. The MTA said it will provide service on the Penn Line on a modified holiday "S" schedule. The agency said some midday Penn Line trains may be canceled because some Camden and Brunswick line equipment will not be available. 
Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:27 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: MARC train
        

MTA: Cards are good (even if drivers are clueless)

Chikwe Njoku wrote in with an inquiry about the Maryland Transit Administration's Transit Link Cards. Thanks to Terry Owens, spokesmam for the MTA, for providing a timely answer.

I have a MARC  TLC Monthly that I use to travel to/from DC. It is very useful since you can also use it on Metro Bus or Metro Rail once you get to DC. Like the Metro Fare Cards they often fail.. and then become a "flash card" that you show upon entering/exiting the station.
 
I have also used the fare card to ride both the Light Rail and MTA Bus at certain times between Camden and Penn Stations as needed. I have noticed that both the fare inspectors and drivers are becoming increasingly perplexed by the MARC TLC Monthly.  Many stare at it in amazement and one driver told me its not valid on the MTA Bus. I tried to explain to her what I thought the policy was and she said " There isn't anything about MTA Buses/Light Rail on here...." I was stunned... after I examined the card.. I realized she was correct unless the policy has changed?
 

Continue reading "MTA: Cards are good (even if drivers are clueless)" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:14 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore Metro, City bus service, Light rail, MARC train, MTA
        

January 18, 2011

Camden Line fully reopening

This just in from the MTA's David Clark:

The Camden Line has reopened between Washington and Baltimore.  Train 853 is departing Dorsey operating approximately 45 minutes late.  Northbound Camden Line trains will operate through to Camden Station.  Expect 5-10 minute delays due to single tracking between Savage and Dorsey.  I have no update on what the incident involved, but the scene has been cleared for MARC traffic in both directions.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:34 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

Camden Line update: Partial service resumes

Partial northbound service has resumed on the Camden Line despite a possible hazardous-material incident aboard a CSX train near Jessup.

MTA spokesman David Clark said northbound Camden trains will run as far as Savage. He said passengers bound for Dorsey and St. Denis will be met there by buses that will take them to their stops. Clark said passengers going to Baltimore's Camden Station are being asked to take the Penn Line and to catch the light rail back to Camden Yards.

 Southbound service is not running. There's no word yet on when full service will be restored.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:08 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

Brunswick Line reopens, but Camden is halted

The Brunswick Lines has been reopened after power lines that had fallen on the nearby Metro Red Line tracks west of Rockville were repaired. But service on the Camden Line has been halted because of a hazardous materials incident aboard s CSX train near Jessup.

MTA spokesman David Clark said Brunswick Lines trains No. 873 and 891 are expected to depart Union Station at or close to their scheduled times. He said Metro Red Line service has also resumed.

On the Camden Line, CSX halted a train after workers on an Anacostia River bridge reported respiratory illness after a CSX train passed. The train was stopped near Jessup, where there is little population near the tracks, so authorities could investigate.

The CSX train was 98 cars long, of which 14 carried hazardous chemicals. The Camden Line shares the tracks on that line with CSX freight traffic, as the Brunswick Line does in Rockville.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:47 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

Downed power lines shut MARC Brunswick Line

The Maryland Transit Administration has suspended operations on the MARC Brunswick Line this afternoon because of downed power lines near its tracks west of Rockville.

MTA spokesman Terry Owens said MARC service to Western Maryland was interrupted by the same power line problem that has disrupted service on the Washington Metro Red Line today. He said the power lines  had fallen on the Metro tracks close to where they parallel the CSX tracks the MTA uses for the Brunswick Line service.

Owens said Brunswick Line riders were being urged to take the Red Line to either the Silver Spring or Twinbrook stations and to catch buses provided by the MTA to reach MARC stations on the line.

Neither the Penn Line nor the Camden Line, which travel the corridor between Baltimore and Washington, were affected, Owens said.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:38 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train
        

January 13, 2011

MARC plans process for schedule changes

The Maryland Transit Administration will outline a series of schedule changes on the Penn Line Jan. 20 before the MARC Riders Advisory Council as part of a plan to run more trains but with fewer cars.

Henry Kay,  the MTA's deputy administrator for planning, said the agency believes that running lighter trains could relieve some of the burden on its locomotives, which are prone to breakdowns when carrying heavy loads in hot weather. He said MARC is now working with Amtrak -- which owns and operates the Penn Line -- to determine how to make the changes work with Amtrak's  own schedule.

"They agree in principle," Kay said.

Continue reading "MARC plans process for schedule changes" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:31 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train
        

January 7, 2011

MARC: The good, the bad and the ugly

MARC riders are reporting it was a rough morning on both the Penn and Camden lines, with breakdowns, delays, slow trains and missed communication -- par for the course.

But  here's some man-bites-dog good news. Here we have a Maryland agency saying it intends to keep doing  its job even in the snow. Amazing. Here's the announcement from the MARC web site:

MARC Train will operate full service on Friday, January 7, 2011.  Given the forecast for light snow showers, please keep the following safety tips in mind to ensure that you get to work safely. 1) Wear sturdy footwear--we strongly discourage heels, men's dress shoes, and other footwear with limited tread and stability. 2) Roads, especially local and lightly-traveled roads will be very slick. Please drive carefully. 3) Arrive at least 15 minutes before train departure to allow extra time to park your car, WALK to the station or platform, and board your train. 4) NEVER run or walk fast on icy and snow covered platforms.  Thank you for riding the MARC Train Service.

But there's also some ugly to go along with it:

Continue reading "MARC: The good, the bad and the ugly" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:42 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train
        

January 3, 2011

MARC rings in new year with delay

Riders reported engine trouble on Train 538 was delaying service on the Penn Line this evening. You can learn a lot more about what's going on -- and more quickly -- by following #marcfail on Twitter than you'll learn from the MTA.

And why is it that the MTA can't get the times right on the notices posted to its web site? The notice marked as being posted at 7:14 p.m. was up there by 7:04 p.m. It would be nice to think a transit agency that lives and dies by schedules knew what time it was.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:05 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: MARC train
        

Census shows transit lags in Baltimore County

Baltimore County slipped from fourth to a tie for fifth place in Maryland in the percentage of workers who use public transit to get to work, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The bureau's 2005-2009 American Community Survey shows that fast-growing Charles County jumped past Baltimore County to come in No. 4 among Maryland jurisdictions in transit use. Transit use there more than doubled from 2.4 percent in the 2000 Census to 6.2 percent in the more recent survey -- likely  reflecting a sharp increase in the number of commuter buses serving the Southern Maryland County.

Baltimore County, meanwhile, slipped from 4 percent transit use in the 2000 Census to 3.9 percent in the survey. That put it in a tie with Howard County, where transit use grew from 2.5 percent in 2000. Baltimore County, parts of which are served by the Maryland Transit Administration, is the largest jurisdiction in the state without a locally operated bus system.

The same survey showed that Maryland ranks fifth among the states -- or sixth if the District of Columbia is included -- in transit use at 8.7 percent of the population. In 2000, the state's percentage stood at 7.2 percent.

Continue reading "Census shows transit lags in Baltimore County" »

December 29, 2010

MARC update: Train 428 is moving, but slowly

MARC rider Eric Leubhusen reports that stranded Penn Line Train 428 is moving again:.

We just started again... they sent a tech, and he fixed it... or so we hope. My issue is the email saying a rescue train had been sent. Uh, no. The conductor has kept us informed with better info. I'll pass along any other developments. We are running about half speed, so I'm holding my breath.

MTA provided this update at what it calls 5:41 p.m., though that's about 100 minutes in the future as I type:

Penn Line Update #4--All trains are on the move north. Train 428 is 45 minutes late approaching BWI Marshall Airport.  Train 530 is 60 minutes late approaching New Carrollton.  Train 432 is 40 minutes late also approaching New Carrollton.  Train 450 is at New Carrollton and is on time.  All subsequent trains should be on time.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:19 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

Uh-oh, trouble on the Penn Line

Just in from the MTA regarding the MARC Penn Line:

Penn Line--Train 428 (4:15pm departure to Penn Station) is disabled north of Union Station.  Trains 530 (4:24pm to Perryville) and 432 (4:40pm to Penn Station) are being delayed as well.  A rescue train is being sent north to transfer train 428's passengers.  Updates will follow.

Update at 5:11 p.m.:

Train 428 (4:15pm departure to Penn Station) is still disabled north of Union Station.  All northbound Penn Line trains are still in Washington and will experience significant delays.  Washington Metro will honor MARC tickets.  MARC has been told that Amtrak is attempting to send a rescue train north to transfer train 428's passengers.  More updates will follow.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:55 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

December 22, 2010

MARC advisory council has attendance problem

A reader who also rides the MARC train pointed out what could be a serious problem with the Maryland Transit Administration's attempts to get input from passengers about the commuter train service: Members of the advisory council that represents the interests of riders haven't been showing up for meetings.

The reader reported:

Upon examination of their meeting notes (found at http://ur.ly/zI0S), however, it looks like they haven't had a quorum at a meeting since April.  I wonder about the purpose and usefulness of the council is if they can't manage to get their members to go to any meetings.  MARC seems to be a surprisingly unreliable method of transportation (after riding it for the past year, I've been on 5 broken trains and had too many delays over an hour to count).  With no effective group looking out for riders' interests, my faith is all but dissolved that service quality will ever improve.

 

Continue reading "MARC advisory council has attendance problem" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:48 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

December 17, 2010

Rider challenges 'hell train' report

Arbutus MARC rider Diane Schmutzler contends that the report on the federally sponsored investigation of the 'hell train' incident aboard a Penn Line train last June was incorrect in a key finding. In fact, she may have a good point. The report doesn't account for an unknown number of passengers -- but cetrainly greater than zero -- who left Train 538 but didn't board a rescue train.

Here's her account:


I was on the "hell train", along with my 2 year old child.  We were on the second  "rescue" train, the broken down 538 (and we sat in the car with the windows pushed out): I refused to board the first rescue because of the absolutely unsafe overcrowded conditions.

Continue reading "Rider challenges 'hell train' report" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:54 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

December 16, 2010

MARC 'hell train' report faults MTA, Amtrak

The management of the Maryland Transit Administration's MARC service and Amtrak both bear responsibility for serious communications and operational lapses that left up to 1,200 commuters sweltering for about two hours near New Carrollton during a June locomotive breakdown on what became known as the "hell train," according to an investigation report released today.

The report,  based on a debriefing held by the Federal Railroad Administration, concluded  the June  21 incident  aboard MARC Penn  Line Train 538 reflected "a series of organizational failures at multiple levels." It also exposed a longstanding problem with  maintaining power to long,  heavy trains in hot weather -- prompting MARC and Amtrak to consider running shorter trains at more frequent intervals.

In a memo to Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley,  MTA Administrator Ralign T. Wells identified  what he called "critical factors" in an incident that led to the hospitalization of several MARC passengers and unflattering national publicity about MARC and Amtrak. The stranding of what  Gov. Martin O'Malley called the "hell train" became an issue in this year's gubernatorial  election and  a focal point for dissatisfaction with unreliable MARC service and spotty communication with passengers.

Continue reading "MARC 'hell train' report faults MTA, Amtrak" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:08 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: MARC train
        

December 13, 2010

Tax break for transit commuters extended in bill

A tax break for MARC and other  transit riders that had been imperiled in earlier versions of the tax bill making its way through appears to have a good chance of staying alive -- at least for another year.

Paul Dean, director of government relations for the American Public Transit Association, said the version of the tax bill the Senate voted on today includes a continuation of the benefit at its current level. Without the provision, the benefit would be cut roughly in half as of Jan. 1.

The benefit allows transit riders to pay up to $230 in transit fares each month with pre-taxed dollars. That amount was raised from $120 in President Obama's 2009 stimulus bill, but that provision had been on the chopping block until House and Senate negotiators agreed to write a one-year extension in the bill continuing the tax cuts implementred under President George W. Bush, Dean said.

 

Continue reading "Tax break for transit commuters extended in bill" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:57 PM | | Comments (1)
        

December 10, 2010

MARC riders warned of cut in tax benefits

MARC riders and users of other transit services face a potentially significant increase in their commuting costs if a federal tax benefit program decreases --- as it now appears it will -- as of Jan. 1, an advocate for the commuter railroad's customers is warning.

Rafi Guroian, chairman of the MARC Tiders Advisory Council, said some commuters could see their costs rise by as much as $1,300 a year if Congress allows the benefits of a program known as SmartBenefits to be cut in half as it considers a bill to expend the tax cuts passed under President  George W. Bush. What is now a subsidy of $230  a month could be cut to $120 a month, Guroian said.

Guroian said that about half of MARC tickets might be purchased with the help of SmartBenefits. He said transit advocates in the Washington and New York areas are joining with the MARC council to try to rally congressional support for the benefit.

We hope to follow up on this issue in greater detail next week. MARC riders and others who use the SmartBenefits program are encouraged to contact michael.dresser@baltsun.com this weekend to describe how they would be affected by expiration of  the program.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:17 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: MARC train
        

December 8, 2010

Amtrak Northeast Corridor service fully restored

Amtrak has fully restored service on its Northeast Corridor after an electrical problem this morning interrupted service between Philadelphia and Baltimore.

In a 10:30 a.m. announcement, the railroad said repairs to the overhead wire system near Wilmington  had been completed, allowing full service to resume. Amtrak said the service interruption ocurred  at 7 a.m. when a power problem involving the damaged overhead wires forced a temporary suspension of service between Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Terry Owens, an MTA spokesman, said  there were there were no problems with MARC Penn Line trains, but he said there were delays on two Amtrak morning trains that stop along the Penn Line and honor MARC tickets.

Amtrak said riders can expect residual congestion-related delays of 15-20 minutes through the affected area.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:34 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads, MARC train
        

December 1, 2010

Some MARC trains barely crack 50% on-time mark

The on-time performance of the MARC Penn and Camden lines reached an abysmal 85 percent in November as three trains barely cracked 50 percent for the month. 

Those are not figures calculated to make riders happy.

"We consider 85 percent to be below the threshold of what we consider acceptable, and that's 90 percent on average," said Rafi Guroian, chairman of the MARC Riders Advisory Council.

On the Camden Line, Train 850 (the 5;16 p.m. out of Washington) was at the bottom with 53 percent on-time performance for the month, while only 55  percent  of  the runs of Trains 846 and 852 (4:13 p.m. and 5:51  p.m. from Washngton) were on time.

No trains on the Penn Line  scored in the 50s. But three fell below 70 percent: the 437 (the 4:50 p.m.  from Penn Station) at 60 percent, the 530 (4:24 from Washington) at 65 percent and the 435 (3:45 from Penn) at 68 percent.

Continue reading "Some MARC trains barely crack 50% on-time mark" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:58 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: MARC train
        

November 23, 2010

BWI rail station platform to reopen

The northbound platform at the BWI MARC/Amtrak railroad station, which has been partially closed for construction in recent months, will fully reopen in time for the busiest travel day of the year, the Maryland Transit Administrattion says.

The MTA said the barriers will be removed  and the platform opened to passengers by 5 a.m. Wednesday. The platform renovation is part  of a larger project to replace the aging station, which opened 30 years ago and has seen a steady growth in ridership.

According to the MTA, the renovation project has lengthened the sttation's northbound  and southbound platforms from 350 feet to 1,050 feet -- allowing all of the ccars on nine car trains to open their doors for passengers.

The station serves both Amtrak trains and the MARC system's Penn Line.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:34 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads, MARC train
        

November 19, 2010

MARC's problem is stalled Acela train

MTA spokesman Terry Owens says the reason three trains have been canceled and others subjected to delays of up to 80 minutes on the Penn Line is that an Amtrak Acela train stalled out about 4 minutes south of Baltimore.

Something like that isn't the fault of MTA or MARC. It's  just a fact of life on the Amtrak-owned Penn Line. What is a lapse on the  MTA's  part is  that the Acela  stalled out  at 12:25  p.m., according to Owens, and as of 3:10 p.m.  the main MTA web site was reporting service on schedule. (See below.)

Meanwhile MARC Tracker was giving more  accurate information. Too bad there's such an inconvenient, well-hidden, multi-step link between the two web sites.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:07 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train
        

MARC can't get the story straight

Tim Manicom of Baltimore noticed that the information he's getting from one MTA web site is entirely different from the information on another. People going to one web site are told MARC is on time; those who visit the other learn that trains on the Penn Line are running as much as 80 minutes late.

The one reporting the delays is MARC Tracker. The one saying evrything is hunky-dory is the MTA's main web site.

"Obviously one hand isn’t communicating with the other," Maricom notes. (His statement checks out for accuracy now, but by the time you read this, the information may have changed.)

This is a serious screw-up. There are many things that occur on the MARC lines that are beyond the MTA's  control. CSX and Amtrak own the tracks, operate the trains and  do the dispatching. But communicating accurately with riders  is the  MTA's  responsibility. The MTA's spokesmen weren't available when I called a few minutes ago.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:29 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train
        

November 15, 2010

Bidding for MARC train contract canceled

Maryland has pulled the plug on the bidding for a contract to take over the operations of the MARC Camden and Brunswick lines from CSX -- saying its bid solicitation had failed to generate  sufficient competition for  the work.

"We were not happy with the competition or lack of competition,"  said state Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley.

Swaim-Staley said the Maryland Transit Administration would revise its request for proposals in an effort to make it more attractive for bidders.  She said it would take  "a couple of months" to put the contract back on the market.

The MARC Camden and  Brunswick lines are now owned and operated by CSX, which has expressed an intent to get out of the passenger operations  side of  the business. The Camden Line runs  between Baltimore and Washington, while the  Brunswick Line extends from  Washington to Martinsburg, W.Va.

 A third MARC route, the Perryville-to-Washington Penn Line, is operated by Amtrak and was not involved in the bid solicitation.

 

 

 

Continue reading "Bidding for MARC train contract canceled" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:24 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train
        

November 9, 2010

Mrs. Smith gets her CharmCard fixed

Yesterday we recounted the  story of Bernard and Maria Smith and the hoops they had to jump through at the Maryland Transit Administration to resolve a problem of a defective CharmCard.

Today we can report that the problem has been resolved, though it took the Smiths three trips downtown to accomplish that. Here's the word from MTA spokesman Terry Owens:

Thank you for the opportunity to investigate and respond to a complaint about an inoperative CharmCard and MTA’s response.  Since hearing from you we did confirm that Mrs. Smith’s CharmCard is defective, and today she picked up a new card with its full value along with an apology for her wasted time.  Interestingly, there are currently 4,000 cards in operation and this is the very first report we have received about a defective card.

Continue reading "Mrs. Smith gets her CharmCard fixed" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:09 PM | | Comments (4)
        

Transit savings in Baltimore put at $9,549 a year

The American Publiic Transit Association estimates that a typical commuter to downtown Baltimore could save $9,549 a year by taking bus or rail to work and jettisoning a car.

Now APTA is a trade group and lobbying arm of the nation's transit agencies, so the fact the organization has come up with a large number for Baltimore and other cities is hardly a surprise. (New York tops that list at $13,962 a year.) But for certain commuters who would like to cut household expenses, the Baltimore number might be worth considering. That's $796 a month, if APTA's calaculations are valid.

Here's APTA's explanation of its methodology:

 

 

Continue reading "Transit savings in Baltimore put at $9,549 a year" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:45 AM | | Comments (7)
        

November 5, 2010

Amtrak riders face delays too; 7 hurt in crash

An Amtrak spokesman said train delays are expected to persist into the evening peak travel period as a result of this morning's low-speed collision of two trains and resulting derailment at Union Station in Washington.

Spokesman Steve Kulm said Amtrak long-distance trains could be delayed 1-2 hours, while MARC and VRE commuter trains could leave up to 30 minutes late. He said Acela trains, as well as Northeast Regionals that are stopping at Washington, will not be affected.

Kulm also updated the injury count from five to seven and said six of those hurt were Amtrak employees. All six were taken to local hospitals, he said, while an injured passenger who had been aboard a private car declined hospital treatment.

  

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:37 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads, MARC train
        

Delays expected for MARC passengers

This morning's collision and derailment of two trains in the Union Station railyard in Washington is apparently causing continuing headaches for MARC riders this afternoon.

A little  before 4 p.m., the Maryland Transit Administration posted this statement on its MARC website:

Due to congestion in the Union Station area due to a derailment in the storage yard earlier today, all trains may be delayed 10-20 minutes departing Union Station.  It is possible that trains will leave on time; do not assume that trains will be late.  Please remain inside Union Station in the passenger waiting area until your train is announced and posted for boarding, this will allow Amtrak and MARC staff to keep you notified on the public address system.   Washington Metrorail will honor MARC tickets today.  We thank you in advance for your patience this afternoon.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:57 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

Election provides mixed news for transit projects

This week's election provided mixed news for supporters of expansion of Maryland's transit system -- positive at the local level but foreboding on the national scene.

The big local story was Gov. Martin O'Malley defeat of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich  Jr. in a contest that pitted two very different views of public transit.  Ehrlich prmoised to scuttle Baltimore's Red Line and the Washington suburban Purple Line as light rail projects if elected. His stance in favor of a bus alternative was a turn-off to influential players in Montgomery and Prince Georges' counties -- as reflected in the Greater Washington Board of Trade's endorsement of O'Malley. His numbers in the Washington suburbs would have been anemic anyway, but his stance on the Purple Line deepened his problems. 

Ehrlich's Red Line position might have won him a few stray votes in Canton, but there are no signs it helped him much in the Baltimore area.

 

Continue reading "Election provides mixed news for transit projects" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:42 AM | | Comments (1)
        

Penn Line service restored

Service on the Penn Line was restored about 10:15 a.m. after a crash and derailment this morning at Union Station, according to MTA spokesman David Clark. Delays are expected to continue.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:22 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train
        

MARC service coming back after collision

Service on the MARC Camden and Brunswick lines has been restored, but remain suspended on the busy Penn Line, after a low-speed collision this morning led to a derailment in Union Station in Washington.

Maryland Transit Administration spokesman David Clark said a train pulling private cars collided with a MARC train that had no passengers aboard a little before 9:20 a.m. Some cars derailed and some  crew members suffered minor injuries, he said. Clark said  the collision occurred after the majority of MARC's morning commuters had already arrived in Washington.

 Clark said Amtrak briefly suspended service on all lines but quickly reopened the station to Brunswick and Camden line trains, which are operated by CSX.

The TBD blog quoted an Amtrak spokesman as saying five of its employees were taken to local hospitals.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:06 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

MARC service suspended due to derailment

This just in from the MTA:

Due to a derailment in Washington Union Station, all train service is suspended until further notice to accommodate emergency responce personnel and vechiles. Washington Metro will honor MARC tickets.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:01 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

October 27, 2010

More MARC woes force delays, cancellations

It looks like another bad night on MARC, which seems to be having a rough week aftter a period of relative calm. Here's what the MTA to say:

Camden Line--Train 852 (5:51pm departure from Washington) is still in Union Station with a mechanical problem.  Updates to follow.

 Brunswick Line passengers--Delays are easing on the Brunswick Line--trains 879, 881, 895, and 883 may experience delays of up to 15 minutes.  Currently, trains 879 and 881 are on-time.  Trains 875, 877, and 893 are west of Rockville and are operating 10-35 minutes late.

Penn Line--Train 439 (5:25 departure from Penn Station to Washington) is operating ten minutes late at Odenton due to a mechanical problem in Baltimore.  When this train arrives in Washington, it will likely need to replace its locomotive.  This will result in a delayed departure for train 440 (6:40pm departure from Washington to Baltimore).  Updates will follow.  Passengers at Union Station are asked to remain inside the station until train 440 is announced for boarding. 

 

Continue reading "More MARC woes force delays, cancellations" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:20 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

October 26, 2010

MARC trains delayed after body found near tracks

At least four MARC trains on the Brunswick Line were delayed this evening after a body was found near the CSX tracks in Rockville.

Maryland Transit Administration spokesman Terry Owens said the MTA was notified about 5:45  p.m. that a body had been found near Nicholson Lane and Randolph Road in Rockville. He said three trains  were stopped at Washington's Union Station  and another halted at Garrett Park.

Commuters on the train at Garrett Park were able to  walk to a Montgomery County Ride-On bus stop and catch rides from there, Owens said. He said the Montgomery  County and  CSX police are investigating the incident, which he said did not appear to be a train strike.

Today's discoveryy marked the third time this month a person has been found dead on or near  Maryland railroad tracks used by MARC. On Oct. 3, a Pennsylvania man committed  suicide on the Amtrak tracks near Middle River. On Oct. 13, another man died in a reported suicide on the CSX tracks in Rockvillle.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:02 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

October 25, 2010

Amtrak: Cause of delays under investigation

Amtrak confirms that there were delays on its tracks between Baltimore and Washington this morning because of signal problems but says the cause has not yet been determined.

The Inside Charm City blog had reported that sabotage might have been the cause.

Amtrak spokeswoman Barbara Petito did not rule out sabotage as the reason a  wire came down in the Seabrook-New Carrollton area at 8:42 a.m. Neither did she confirm the report. She said Amtrak Police were still investigating why the wire came down and set off a signal warning that the track ahead was occupied.

Petito said two Amtrak trains were delayed -- one by five minutes, another by 13. She said she had no information about MARC delays. She noted that that of copper wire has been a problem for Amtrak of late.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:11 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads, MARC train
        

Blog reports possible Amtrak sabotage

Jeff Quinton at the Inside Charm City blog is reporting that some delays on the MARC Penn Line this morning might have been the result of sabotage of some Amtrak signals.

Quinton reports  that tthe MTA sent out a message on Twitter confirming that there had been "malicious destruction" of Amtrak signals.

Meanwhile, the MTA is reporting that CSX is having signal problems at Greenbelt on the Camden Line, causing delays of 20-35 minutes. No word on a cause, but the Camden Line usually doesn't require a saboteur to make it late.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:42 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads, MARC train
        

October 21, 2010

MTA: CharmCard a work in progress

JIn a recent email, Jerry McCann of Lutherville raised some interesting points about how the MTA's new CharmCard works  on the light rail. We posted it on this blog.

Now  MTA spokesman David Clark has replied on behalf of the agency. Here's what he had to say:

Machines at the Lexington Market Northbound Light Rail Station are temporarily unable to accept CharmCards due to underground utility problems.  Additional notices placed on the TVM’s inform patrons that the machines currently accept “Cash Only” and CharmCard access will be available soon at that location. 

Continue reading "MTA: CharmCard a work in progress" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:03 PM | | Comments (6)
        

October 14, 2010

CharmCard for seniors due in early 2011

This just in from the MTA website:

Based on card sales and fare purchases, MTA’s new CharmCard has been positively
received by full-fare customers.  The reduced-fare CharmCard for seniors is in the final stages of development, and is scheduled to be available in early 2011. 
When the Senior CharmCard is available the MTA will provide purchase information
at the MTA Reduced Fare Certification Office, at the Transit Store, on transit vehicles, and through direct mail.

 

Storm knocks out parking payment machines

This from the MTA  MARC website:

Attention BWI Commuters:   A storm knocked out the communication on all the cash payment machines at the BWI Parking garage. Signs have been placed on the machines  informing customers that they can pay at the machines with credit cards or at the exit with cash. The machines are expected to be out for about a month.

A month? That must have been one heck of a storm.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:02 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads, MARC train
        

October 13, 2010

Brunswick Line reopens after fatality on tracks

The Maryland Transit Administration reported at 6:06 p.m. that the MARC Brunswick Line has reopened after it was shut down for almost four hours because of an apparent suicide on the CSX-owned tracks on Randolph Road in Rockville.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:10 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

Fatality shuts Brunswick Line at Rockville

Service on the MARC Brunswick Line has been shut down after a pedestrian was killed by a train on the CSX tracks this afternoon near Rockvillle, according to the Maryland Transit Administration.

A Montgomery County police spokeswoman, Blanca Kling, said an adult male was hit by a train at the Randolph Road crossing at 2:07 p.m. She said witnesses reported that the man jumped in front of a CSX  freight train. An investigation is continuing. Police have not yet released the man's identity.

MTA spokesman David Clark said MARC had established a bus bridge to meet passengers at the Rockville Metro station and take them to points farther west  on the line -- one branch of which runs to Frederick and the other to Martinsburg, W.Va. He said Metro will honor  MARC tickets.

Clark said the tracks, which are also used by Amtrak trains between Washington and the Midwest, are expected to reopen about 6 p.m.

The apparent suicide would be the second on Maryland tracks so far this month. On Oct. 4, 46-year-old Mark Young, 46, of York, Pa., killed  himself by getting in front of a train on the Amtrak Northeast Corridor tracks in Middle River.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:26 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads, MARC train
        

October 6, 2010

State starts '511' service for travelers

The State Highway Administration has announced it will launch a free. round-the-clock "511" telephone service to provide real-time traffic information to travelers in the state.

The new system, provided by Televent of Rockville, under a five-year contract with the state worth $4.7 million, will start up in fall 2011, according to Gov. Martin O'Malley.

The SHA wil manage the statewide service, under which the contractor will collect traffic information from a variety of sources and provide it to travelers who place calls to 511. The informatiion will also be  made available through social network operators and a website. The 511 system is later expected to add a personalized service that will alert subscribers to traffic conditions via text messaging.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:55 AM | | Comments (3)
        

October 1, 2010

MTA now posts MARC performance results

Congratulations to the Maryland Transit Administration for adopting the practice of posting a daily summary of the performance of the MARC system on its website.

Since early September, the MTA has been posting a regular summary of the previous day’s MARC delays, allong with a scorecard tracking its on-time performannce on a month-to-date and year-to-date basis.

The totals for September as of Thursday show an admirable Penn Line performance for the month of 95 percent – much better than the year-to-date figure of 89 percent. The news from the Camden and Brunswick lines isn’t so rosy – with both scoring in the mid-80s for September.

Riders can find the data here  . Or go to the MTA website  and click on MARC TRAIN at the top. From the menu that pops up, choose MARC Train – Daily Service Digest.

This is the type of transparency that is long overdue at the MTA, which should consider providing this data for  more of its modes. (Local bus could be difficult, but the light rail and Metro should be doable.) Riders are invivited to monitor it for accuracy.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:39 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train
        

September 21, 2010

CharmCard "a first step," MTA chief says

The chief of the Maryland Transit Administration says the launch Tuesday of the system's new CharmCard electronic payment system is just the first step in an effort to streamline the use of transportation services in the Baltimore region.


MTA Administrator Ralign T. Wells said at a news conference at the Charles Center Metro Station that  “nothing is  off the table” in terms of future applications of the new “smart cards, which now can be used to pay fares on local buses, the Metro and the light rail system.


“We’re open to anything that will allow more accessibility to various transportation modes,” Wells said at the long-awaited CharmCard, which has been more  than a decade in development.

 

Continue reading "CharmCard "a first step," MTA chief says" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:20 PM | | Comments (2)
        

August 30, 2010

MARC ridership falls in July

MARC ridership on the Brunswick line is down more than 9 percent compared to last July, but the MTA attributes it to the summer vacation season. From the Associated Press:

The Maryland Transit Administration says ridership on MARC's Brunswick line was down 9.3 percent last month compared to a year earlier.

Ridership on all three MARC lines fell 1.1 percent from July 2009, with an average of 31,748 riders per day, and about 6.4 percent from June. But the Brunswick line, which runs from Washington to West Virginia, saw a 9.3 percent drop compared to a year earlier, with an average of 6,819 daily riders.

Maryland Transit Administration officials attribute the drop to summer vacation season.

The Camden line, which runs between Baltimore and Washington, saw a 3 percent drop, but the Penn line, which runs from Perryville to Washington, posted a 2.2 percent increase with an average of 21,047 daily riders.

Weren't people on vacation last July, too? What else could account for this drop? The Camden line also saw a drop, albeit a more modest 3 percent.

MARC riders: Has there been a bit more space in the cars during your commute?

Posted by Maryann James at 5:03 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: MARC train, MTA
        

August 25, 2010

Double-diesel approach may be working for MARC

When the hot weather started taking a toll on MARC's electric locomotives early this summer, the commuter railroad began to experiment with a new configuration twinning two diesel engines on its heaviest Penn Line trains to maintain both pulling power and internal systems.

The Maryland Transit  Administration isn't exactly proclaiming the experiment a rousing success but spokesman Terrry Owens says it has  been working well so far.

"Clearly the locomotives have performed extremely well," he saiid. "We've not had the problems you would have with electrics being down because of the heat."

 

Continue reading "Double-diesel approach may be working for MARC" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:52 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train
        

August 24, 2010

MARC rider finds silver lining in outage

MARC riders on the Penn Line received a rude surprise this morning when the overhead electrical power system on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor failed, bringing commuter trains and interciity trains to a halt between New York and Washington as well as Philadelphia and Harrisburg.

AmTrak spokeswoman Tracy Connell said power in the cartenary system went out about 7:45 a.m. and was restored about 9 a,m. She said that after  that it may have taken a while to get the trains running again. She said about 30 trains -- intercity and commuter -- were affected by the outage.

Penn Line rider Claudia Balohg managed to find some good news amid the adversity. According to Balog, Amtrak diid a much better job of handling this incident than it did during previous service interruptions.

I was on one of the delayed MARC trains impacted by this morning’s Amtrak catenary line failure.  I am happy to report that there were many improvements in the MARC response.  Passengers were provided with water on the trains, there were many announcements updating us on our status, and it appeared that the plan “B” – to dispatch a diesel engine to rescue our train – was smoothly implemented.  Granted, it was getting warm and uncomfortable on the trains, but with 70 temps outside, few were complaining, and conductors made many announcements addressed to any one who might be suffering from asthma or similar issues who might need assistance.  If MARC can continue/Amtrak can continue with responses like this to power and engine failures – including when the stakes are higher, say, a 90+ degree evening commute with more fatigued, crankier passengers – then I can say that finally, administrators have begun to listen to passengers and effectuate positive changes. 

 

Continue reading "MARC rider finds silver lining in outage" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:46 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: MARC train
        

August 23, 2010

For once it's not MARC -- Long Island trains stalled

For once it's not MARC riders who are enduring a brutal day on commuter rail. Hundreds of thousands of New York commuters were left at stations after a fire in a switching tower shut down most of the trains on the Long Island  Railroad.

At last report, service was not expected to be restored in time  for rush hour. The LIRR, the nation's busiest commuter rail system, carries an average of 265,000 riders daily. Ten of the system's 11 lines were affected by the shutdown. The tower that was damaged by fire is in Jamaica, Queens, a major transfer point. There were no injuries.

Meanwhile, all three MARC lines were reported to be running on schedule.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:25 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train
        

August 12, 2010

Get breaking news on traffic, transit here

Has a four-vehicle crash closed the Jones Falls Expressway? Did a light rail train jump the tracks? Are hundreds of passengers stranded on a MARC train?

You can find out fast by receiving text message alerts from The Baltimore Sun's Breaking News Desk. Just click here to sign up to receive traffic alerts and other news as it happens. These are not routine announcements or advisories about everyday congestion but the type of major developments that can help commuters get to home or work faster.

There is no charge for the service from The Sun, though standard test-message charges from cell phone providers may apply.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:28 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Commuter wonders: Why no crosswalk at station?

Jim Nelson of Towson has the following question for the city Department of Transportation. It's a good one, and Getting There hopes to get a reply from the city soon.

As a daily MARC train commuter to Washington, DC, I make my way to Penn Station on foot via W. Oliver Street, crossing over N. Charles Street to get to the station.  Many other rail riders do this as well.


The hazardous nature of crossing N. Charles, particularly in the afternoon, is the reason the reason for this message.  Typically, people exiting the station walking toward homes and parking garages to the west, literally have to sprint across the busy street, through gaps in fast-moving traffic.  Obviously, this is very dangerous; particularly, for seniors and children.

Has the City ever considered placing a pedestrian crosswalk and light at this location?  If not, why?  If so, why hasn't a pedestrian crossing been situated there?  Given that our Penn Station is one of the busiest passenger rail terminals in the country, with an annual total ridership of over 1 million, it would seem appropriate that those who forego the use of their cars subsequently be permitted to safely cross the street once they get off the train.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:04 PM | | Comments (8)
        

August 10, 2010

O'Malley supports Purple Line, dodges on gas tax

It was no accident that Gov. Martin O’Malley wore a purple tie to his campaign event in Silver Spring this morning.

The governor met with about two dozen small business owners and other voters at the Tastee Diner in this Montgomery County community to discuss his approach to transit issues -- and to underscore his support for a light rail project known as the Purple Line and the opposition of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to it.

While O’Malley launched no new verbal missiles at his prospective Republican opponent, he used the Purple Line issue to underscore a stark policy difference between the two.

Continue reading "O'Malley supports Purple Line, dodges on gas tax" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:31 PM | | Comments (1)
        

August 5, 2010

MARC Penn Line schedule to change

The Maryland Transit Administration said it will modify its Penn Line schedule Aug. 9 as Amtrak's project to replace concrete railroad ties move to a new section. The new schedule has been posted at the MTA's web site, http://www.mta.maryland.gov/, and at MARC stations.

The MTA said Amtrak has completed work on a stretch of track between New Carrollton and north of Halethorpe and will move to a new section.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading "MARC Penn Line schedule to change" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:07 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

August 4, 2010

MARC follies: Bulldozed on the Brunswick Line

The MTA's explanation of what went wrong on the Brunswick Line is a typically garbled, but it does illustrate that just about anything can happen on MARC. CSX operates this line, and as far as I know MARC owns no bulldozers, so the MTA is likely innocent in this turn of events.

Last updated: August 04, 6:11 PM
 

Brunswick Line: All trains are operating along a single track between Kensington and Rockville with a bulldozer fouling the other track after losing one of its tracks. Equipment is enroute to the site to move the bulldozer from the track area. Trains are being delayed 5 to 10 minutes moving through this area and may incur additional delay time due to the many freight trains operating in the area.

Brunswick: MARC 877 is operating approx 20 mins late approaching Point of Rocks due to all trains operating along a single track between kensington and Rockville with a bulldozer fouling the other track after losing one of its tracks.

Penn Line and Camden Line riders should wake up every day  and give thanks they aren't putting up the comedy of errors that is the Brunswick.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:51 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train
        

July 26, 2010

Wiith break from heat, MARC broken again

Consiidering the blazing heat that prevailed last week, MARC didn't do nearly as badly as might have been expected. Today brought a little relief from the heat, so naturally the system  is having all sorts of  problems. Here's the latest:

Last updated: July 26, 5:44 PM
 
Brunswick: Marc 891 now operating 42 minutes late due to switch problem east of Point of Rocks.

Camden: MARC 846 is operating approximately 50 minutes late in the Dorsey (area).

Camden: MARC 848 is operating approximately 25 minutes late in the Savage area.

Penn: MARC 534 (520p WAS Dp) is expected to operate 25-35 minutes late due to mechanical problem in Union Station causing a swap to new equipment.

Penn: MARC 437 operating approximately 15-20 minutes late in the New Carrollton area due to a stopped freight train.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:53 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: MARC train
        

July 22, 2010

MARC reports 'major disruptions' on Brunswick Line

MARC is reporting "major disruptions," but few Baltimore-area riders should be affected because almost all the problems the MTA is reporting are on the Brunswick Line. The worst problem being reported on Baltimore-bound trains is a one-car deficit on one of the  trains going to Perryville on the Penn Line. The Brunswick Line problems are being attributed largely to unspecified "police activity."

Here's the latest:

 

MARC Commuters: Due to the Washington Union Station delays, the Washington Metro will be honoring MARC tickets to all MARC lines.

    * PENN LINE COMMUTERS:
          o MARC 534 (520pm WAS Dp) to Perryville will be operating one car short this evening.

    * BRUNSWK COMMUTERS:
          o ATTENTION:[UPDATE3] MARC 891 has been cancelled due to Police Activity in Washington. MARC 875 will be carrying MARC 891 passengers and will be operating approximately 25 minutes late.
          o ATTENTION:[UPDATE2] MARC 873 is operating 30-40 minutes late approaching Silver Spring Station. Expect significant overcrowding conditions.
          o ATTENTION:[UPDATE1] MARC 873 just departed Washington/Union Station and operating approximately 30-40 minutes late. update to follow.
          o ATTENTION: MARC 873 (335p WAS Dp) and 891 (350p WAS Dp) are holding in Union Station due to police activity. Updates to follow.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:39 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train
        

Bus rider urges: Give MTA a chance

Ada Orie of Towson recently contacted this after having difficulty getting her complaints dealt with. Our public airing of her problems helped bring out action from the MTA, including a  call from Administrator Ralign T. Wells, who apparently did a good enough job of responding to her concerns that she sent this email:

I was born, raised and have lived in Maryland all my life. I have been a MTA customer for about 15 years. I want to talk to you about MTA service and second chances. I have traveled on the MTA bus, light rail, MARC train and metro subway. I will say although the service has not been perfect in the last 15 years, I will say I always got to my destination safely and I am appreciative the fares have stayed the same for the last few years despite the economic downturn. As we are ten years into a new millennium, we have a responsibility to usher in positive change. Let us do it by opening up the lines of communication between the MTA and its customers.

 

Continue reading "Bus rider urges: Give MTA a chance" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:40 PM | | Comments (1)
        

July 21, 2010

Farewell, Melissa. MARC will miss you

Melissa Schober, a friend of Getting There who helped point out the lapses in the MTA's handing of MARC riders' complaints, write to say she's getting off the Penn Line train she's been riiding since 2007.

Got a new gig, closer to my home in Baltimore. I have a two-year-old and I just can't take any more delays and excuses and hand-waving. I have missed too many evenings with her. Last day on the Penn Line will be 7/29.

I'll have to drive -- buying a used Prius -- which really stinks. I am a HUGE believer in transit; I'm 31 and my husband is 33 and this will be our first car. What does it say about MARC service that it is driving me to, well, drive?

It says the MTA has a huge problem with riders who aren't captive customers because of their economic straits.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:04 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train
        

Another MARC complaint goes unanswered

Did the Maryland Transit Administration blow  off a letter passed on the the Governor's Office? Or did the governor's people fumble what should have been an east handoff? (UPDATE: Answer at end of posting)

Either way, MARC rider Scott Klinger of Baltimore says he has yet to receive a reply to his May 21 letter to Gov. Martin O'Malley except for a form letter saying the MTA would give him a full response. Since then, Klinger said, he's heard nothing about the complaints he lodged about shoddy MARC service that caused him to miss a social event in Baltimore.

Here's what Klingers has  to say now:

 

 

Prior to moving to Baltimore four years ago, I spent 25 years living in Boston and happily riding the MBTA. Over that time, I contacted the MBTA on many occassions to either compliment exceptional service, or to report problems that needed addressing. There was not a time when I did not receive a personalized tailored response directly to my letter or phone call. A few times I received phone calls within hours of sharing a concern, and a thoughtful reply never took more than a couple of weeks to arrive. My point is that models of terrific public transit customer service do exist, the question for the folks at MARC is are they willing to aspire to be the best, or to settle for aspirations of  comfortable mediocrity.

 

Continue reading "Another MARC complaint goes unanswered" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:02 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: MARC train
        

July 19, 2010

MARC service gets 'thumbs up'

Just for a change of pace, Getting There presents an email from Joyce Tarrant of Woodlawn, who actually had something good to say about MARC service:

I just wanted to let you know of my experience on the MARC train recently. In light of all of their bad publicity, I have to give them a real "thumbs up" for their communication updates during a recent trip.

There was an announcement that the train had hit something and would be stopping. Of course, speculation among the riders ranged from a deer to a small child. The MARC crew de-boarded the train and walked around, inspected the exterior, and then got back on and announced exactly what they found: a garden hose that was the actual object hit.

Throughout the time they were stopped, the air conditioning remained on (thank goodness). When the conductor walked through, I immediately commended him on the timely update. The update quickly calmed the fears and rumors that were circulating throughout the train.

I know you receive many emails regarding the poor service, but I just wanted to weigh in with something positive. I commend you for your continued interest in the matter.

There are, in fact, such a thing as good experiences on MARC. Last Thursday I took three rides on the Penn Line, and all of them were on time and uneventful -- even the evening departure from Union Station. The worst I observed was two of the three parking payment machines at BWI were out of order.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:46 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train
        

July 16, 2010

How do you say 'hell train' in German?

Riders of the MARC train frequently express frustration that Maryland's commuter line doesn't perform as well as rail lines in Europe and other places. But breakdowns are a fact of life on any train system, as this report from supposedly hyper-efficient Germany shows.-- brought to us courtesy of Greater Greater Washington.

It seems the air conditioning on a paradoxically named ICE train between Berlin and Cologne failed during a heat wave in Germany, sending temperatures in the rail cars to about 122 degrees.  Apparently the reaction of the German crew showed they might as well have been trained by Amtrak. Nine people were hospitalized, compared with two on MARC's infamous June 21 "hell train."

This certainly neither excuses MARC or Amtrak but it points out the extreme heat can hurt performance  on any train system. The test is how rail officials react, and suspicions that MARC and its contractors have a monopoly on ineptness ought to be kaput.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:30 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: MARC train
        

July 15, 2010

Charm City Circulator: MARC on rubber wheels?

Has the Charm City Circulator morphed into a MARC train on wheels. Does Baltimore really need a second MTA? Has the Purple Route developed a circulatory disease?

All these snarky thoughts and more occurred to me today as I waited more than 40 minutes in 90-degree heat on St. Paul Street outside Penn Station for a Charm City Circulator Purple Route  bus that never did arrive.

To be sure, I could have cut the ordeal short by acting on my suspicion that the Circulator was messed up by the Artscape festival taking shape around the train station. But to the extent possible, I tried to replicate the experience of a visitor who had knew nothing about Artscape.

Let's just say that visitor wouldn't want to return to Baltimore -- or at least use its free shuttle service -- again any time soon.

It was 10:34 when I arrived at the Purple Route Penn Station stop. There was conspicuous signage for the Purple Route, along with  an electronic sign giving the time and the wait expected  for the next bus. It was noticeable that there was no signage up yet informing riders that the Penn Station stop would be closed during Artscape, but traffic along St. Paul was still running and the electronic sign kept promising an arriving bus. With advertised headways of 10 minutes, there was every reason to expect a bus by 10:44.

At 10:47 a.m. the electronic sign said a bus would come in 1 minute. A minute later, no bus. Then the sign rolled over to say the next bus would arrive in 18 minutes, leaving me and several other waiting riders puzzled. 

Continue reading "Charm City Circulator: MARC on rubber wheels?" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:52 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: City bus service, MARC train, MTA bus system
        

July 14, 2010

Camden Line having switch problems

It looks like there are switch problems on the Camden Line tonight. That's one thing MARC has no control over because the switches are owned and operated by CSX.

Most of these issues concern the Brunswick Line, but rider Jeff Quinton reports a delay on the Penn Line Train No. 440 as well:

# MARC Train 852 (5:51p WAS Dp) enroute to Baltimore/Camden is operating approximately 15 minutes late due to switch problems.
# MARC Train 893 (5:15p WAS Dp) enroute to Frederick is operating approximately 20 minutes late. Update to follow
# MARC Train 877 (4:55p WAS Dp) to Martinsburg is operating 10-15 minutes late approching Silver Spring station.
# MARC Train 875 (4:25p WAS Dp) to Brunswick is operating 20 minutes late.
#
MARC Train 879 to Martinsburg (5:40 pm Dp) will operate one car short this evening.
# UPDATE: MARC Train 853 is operating approximately 45 minute late approaching Dorsey station due to switch problems. 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:39 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

MARC issues persist, readers report

A new day brings a new influx of complaints about the MARC system some well-justified, others more questionable. Here's one from Jim Moloney of Baltimore that represents a little bit of both:

I have been reading the Sun’s continued coverage of the latest problems concerning MARC and wanted to let you know they are still continuing.

Last night we attempted to take the 5:15 train from Washington to Baltimore. At 5:10 we were told that the engine was disabled and were told to “run” to catch the 5:20 train leaving from another track. Those of us who could “run” did.

When we got to the track where the 5:20 was leaving from, we were met by a barricade, a police officer and an angry MARC employee yelling that the 5:20 was “closed” to further passengers. Passengers understandably became irate. We were threatened with arrest if we “hindered” the operation of MARC. We were told to head to the 5:30 which was leaving from another track.

When we got to the 5:30 train we asked a conductor if it was headed to Baltimore. He smirked and said “who wants to know”. I got disgusted and left (a fellow passenger advised me it was going to Baltimore).



Continue reading "MARC issues persist, readers report" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:52 PM | | Comments (14)
Categories: MARC train
        

July 13, 2010

MARC riders: Is a canceled train 'minor?'

One of the most persistent irritants in the relationship between the MTA and its riders is its insistence on classifying even very inconvenient disruptions of its service as "minor" on its web site. But the agency seems to be in love with the practice of downplaying its customers' inconvenience.

Let's at least agree to this protocol for the MARC system: If a train has to be canceled, that automatically lifts the disruptions of of the "minor" category. The MTA doesn't even have to use the word "major" -- which it doesn't like to do short of  an apocalyptic breakdown. Just call them disruptions.

Or are there any MARC riders out there who think it's a minor matter when their train is canceled and they have to squeeze onto the next one out of the station?

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:49 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: MARC train
        

MARC off to rocky start tonight

Here's the litany of MARC train problems tonight, provide by the MTA at 5:33 p.m. The MTA is still calling these "minor disruptions," though that description is looking a bit questionable.I keep telling the MTA to banish the word "minor" from their web site, but it seems to be their favorite  word.

Penn Line: UPDATE: MARC Train 450 (515p WAS Dp) to Baltimore/Penn is cancelled. Next available MARC Train will be Train 534 departing 520p WAS.

(Rider Jeff Quinton reports that 534 is running a car short, leading to crowded conditions.)

MARC 530 is operating approximately 15 minutes late in the baltimore area.

Camden:

MARC 846 (413p WAS Dp) is operating approximately 25 minutes late due to freight train traffic.

 

Continue reading "MARC off to rocky start tonight" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:36 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train
        

MTA offers free passes to 'hell train' riders

e Maryland Transit Administration is offering passengers on its infamous “hell train” -- the Penn Line No. 538 from June 21 -- five free day passes as compensation for their two-hour ordeal aboard a stranded train in sweltering heat without air-conditioning.

The problem for many riders will be that they travel on monthly passes and may not be able to take full advantage of the offer. The MTA said it is offering the VIP day passes – worth the equivalent of $70 in rides from Penn Station to Union Station – as an “expression of our appreciation for your continued patronage following delays to your train on June 21.”

The offer is restricted to passengers on the affected train. Since that incident, which sent two riders to the hospital, officials from Gov. Martin O’Malley on down have tried to make amends with a series of apologies and listening tours. Amtrak, which operated the train and took responsibility for the failure to attend to passengers’ comfort more quickly, instituted several procedural changes as a result.


Continue reading "MTA offers free passes to 'hell train' riders" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:06 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train
        

MTA chief answers MARC rider's questions

Sun photo/Barbara Haddock Taylor

A few weeks ago this blog reported how MARC rider Melissa Schober wrote to Maryland Transit Administration chief Ralign T. Wells (above) about her experiences on one terrible night on the Penn Line, only to receive in return a form letter addressing the horrors of another night on the MARC. Meanwhile,  the reply sent under Wells' name blew off the pertinent questions she had about the MTA's contract with Amtrak to operate the Penn Line.

After the mistake was  called to Wells' attention, he  called Schober to apologize and later followed up with a written reply. To me, it looks like a good recovery and a candid assessment of the pros and cons of seeking another operator. What do MARC riders think?

 

Dear Ms. Schober:
 
Again, please accept my sincere apologies for my earlier reply to you which was entirely inappropriate and which did not respond in any way to the complaints you set forth in your June 25, 2010 email to me.  You had taken the time to contact me with your concerns and your message deserved my full attention and consideration.  I take full responsibility for this error. 
 

Continue reading "MTA chief answers MARC rider's questions" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

July 9, 2010

MARC-watch calling it a week

It looks like a pretty good night on MARC, at least judging by the MTA's web site and the lack of plaintive emails. So Getting There is calling it a week and will be taking off Monday.

With the heat in the 100s, it was rough Tuesday and Wednesday. The delays were many, and the cancellations had to be frustrating.But Thursday was better and Friday much better.

But who out there wouldn't  agree it could have been a whole lot worse?  No hour-long strandings between stations. No near-riots on board. Some attempts by Amtrak crews to communicate when there were problems.

Maybe there are glimmers of progress here. We'll see. There's a lott of summer yet ahead.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:49 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train
        

With mercury down, MARC looks much better

With high temperatures down to a relatively comfortable 91 degrees, the MARC train is operating almost smoothly this afternoon. Thhis is the worst the MTA had to report at 5 p.m., and there hasn't been anything since:

  *  Attention Penn Line Commuters:
          o MARC Train 535 from Perryville (250 pm Departure) to Union Station is operating 10 minutes late due to Amtrak traffic.


 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:03 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

July 8, 2010

MARC report: Some delays, could be much worse

Here's the report from the MTA as of 6:04 p.m. Despite the heat, this doesn't look a whole lot worse than an average night. But there's still plenty of time to go.

  * Attention Penn Line Commuters:
          o MARC Train 450 enroute to Penn station is operating 10-15 minutes late.
    * Attention Camden Line Commuters:
          o MARC Train 850 to Baltimore/ Camden is operating 10 minutes late due to congestion. Updates to follow

Continue reading "MARC report: Some delays, could be much worse" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:10 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

MARC still struggling with heat

For a third day running, the MARC system is trying to cope with temperatures of more than 90 degrees -- though at least it doesn't seem to be crashing the 100-degree mark today. There are a few early problems but nothing too dramatic. We'll be keeping an eye on conditions, however, because MARC is always at risk in extreme heat.

Here's the latest from MTA:

# Brunswick Line Commuters:  Marc Train 873 approaching Rockville is operating 15 minutes late due to heat orders.

# Attention Penn Line Commuters:  MARC Train 534 to Perryville (520 pm Departure) will be operating one car short this evening.
# Attention Brunswick Line Riders:   CSX has issued heat orders for this afternoon starting at 1:00pm, until 7:00pm. Trains will operate 20 miles per hour under the normal maximum authorized speed but not less than 40 miles per hour. Delays can range from 10-15 minutes.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:38 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

MTA extends call center hours

Spurred by recent service disruptions on MARC trains, the Maryland Transit Administration has extended the hours of its customer call center to roughly match the hours commuter rail service operates.

Starting immediately, the call center will remain open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday "until further notice." The center had previously closed  at 7 p.m. --- long before the last MARC trains of the day left their stations.

MTA Administrator Ralign Wells said one of the messages hhe had received in talking with customers is  that they want to be able to reach a knowledgeable  agency representative during service hours. The MTA said it has also designated some of its  agents to  deal specifically with MARC-related issues and to stay in touch with the commuter line's operations staff. The number for MARC-related callls is 1-800-325-7245.

The MTA said it has also extended call center hours for its other rail and bus systems to  the same period as for MARC. That number is 410-539-5000.

Continue reading "MTA extends call center hours" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:19 PM | | Comments (0)
        

July 7, 2010

Another MARC train canceled, but Amtrak steps up

The problems continue on the MARC Penn Line, but it's good to see Amtrak stepping in to take some canceled passengers. Here's the latest:

 

 Penn Line Commuters: MARC Train 442 from Washington/ Union Station (740 pm departure) is canceled due to no equipment.  Amtrak 198 departing 815 pm from Wash. will accomodate passsengers at Washington to New Carrollton, BWI, and Balt./ Penn station.

MARC Train 538 from Washington/ Union Station (613 pm departure)  to Perryville is expected to operate 15 minutes late due to congestion.

MARC Train 436 from Washington/ Union Station ( 530 pm  departure) is operating 30 minutes late due to single tracking.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:53 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: MARC train
        

Good night on MARC? No. But no meltdowns yet

With the temperature hitting 101 degrees, MARC is having its predictable canceled trains and delays this evening, but so far nothing has broken down between stations. If the system can get through the night without a stalled train, you could almost call that a victory -- at least in the expectations game.Here's the latest report from MTA:

Penn Line Commuters: MARC Train 436 from Washington/ Union Station ( 530 pm  departure) is operating 30 minutes late due to single tracking.

Penn Line Commuters: MARC Train 534 departed Washington 20 minutes late due to single tracking

Camden Line Commuters:  MARC Train 852 departing Washington/ Union Station (551 pm departure) is operating 30 minutes late due to disabled train at  Wash. terminal.

MARC Train 850 from Washington/Union Station (516 pm departure) to Camden Station is operating 40 minutes late due to mechanical problem. 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:40 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train
        

MARC woes continue to add up

The heat seems to be taking its toll on MARC tonight, with problems cropping up on the Camden and Brunswick lines as well as the Penn Line.

Here's the 5:50 report  from the MTA:

 Penn Line Commuters:MARC Train 436 from Washington Union Station ( 5:30 pm  departure)is expect to operate 30 minutes late due to single tracking

Penn Line Commuters: MARC Train 534 departed Washington 20 minutes late due to single tracking

Camden Line Commuters:  MARC Train 850 from Washington/Union Station (Departure 5:16 PM) to Camden Station is operating 10-15 minutes late due to mechanical problem.

Penn Line Commuters: MARC Train 450 departed Washington 20 minutes late due to single tracking.

UPDATE: MARC Train 432 is canceled MARC Train 534 departing Washington Union Station at 5:15 PM will accomodate passengers from Train 432 and make all stops.  Expect overcrowding condition.

Continue reading "MARC woes continue to add up" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:53 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train
        

MARC Penn Line train canceled; second crowded

The follies were a little late getting started but the summertime blues are getting into swing on MARC. The latest:

Last updated: July 07, 5:27 PM
 

Penn Line Commuters:  UPDATE MARC Train 432 is canceled MARC Train 534 departing Washington Union Station at 5:15 PM will accomodate passengers from Train 432 and make all stops.  Expect overcrowding condition.
Reports from aboard say the train just left at 5:370 PM, 22 minutes late, and that it is indeed crowded. 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:43 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

MARC delays crop up in 101-degree heat

With temperatures reaching as high as 101 today, it was perhaps inevitable there would be problems on the Penn and Camden MARC lines. The only surprises are that they are relatively few and didn't crop up until after 5 p.m. Here's the latest from the MTA:

Last updated: July 07, 5:12 PM
 

Penn Line Commuters:  UPDATE MARC Train 534 departing Washington Union Station at 5:15 PM will make all stops to Baltimore to accommodate passengers from Train 432.  Expect overcrowding condition.

MARC Train 432 at  Washington Union Station (Depart 4:40 PM) is delayed due to overhead wire problem. Expect 15-20 minutes delay. Update to follow

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:16 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

Md. transportation chief asks MARC riders' patience

The following message to MARC riders from Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley was posted on the MTA's web site this morning:

Severe heat, like that forecast throughout this week, can cause problems with equipment operating on all MARC lines.  The performance of locomotives, air conditioning in passenger cars and catenary lines carrying electrical power on the Penn Line are pushed to the limit in excessive heat.  We remind customers that heat related issues have the potential to create delays throughout the system.  We want to assure you that we work with our partners (Amtrak on the Penn Line and CSX on the Brunswick and Camden lines) to aggressively address these issues when they occur and resolve them as quickly as possible.  We appreciate your understanding and your patience. 

A heat order, slowing trains because of rail conditions, has already been issued by CSX for the Brunswick Line, and the Camden Line can't be  far behind. Such orders are routine this time of year.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:11 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train
        

July 6, 2010

MARC woes continue but it could be worse

Here's the 7:11 p.m. advisory from MARC on the many delays this evening. With temperatures reaching as high as 105, it should come as no surprise. It probably comes as a relief to the folks running the system that it wasn't a lot worse. And judging by the lack of irate email, MARC riders are being realists about the challenges the system faces in this heat.

# MARC Train 538 to Perryville is operating 15 minutes late departing Seabrook Station.

 # UPDATE: Train 855 expected to arrive Union Station 15 minunte late due to heat inspection, as a result Train 854 ( 6:43 PM departure from Union Station) is expected to depart approximately 20 minute late.

# MARC Train 439 to Washington Union Station is 30 minute late departing Seabrook station.

# Penn Line UPDATE: Due to damaged wires and single tracking, all trains continue to experience delays approx. 30-40 minutes late. Train 436 ( 5:30 PM departure from Union Station) has just left Union Station 40 minutes late.

# Brunswick Line Passengers: Service delay 15-20 minutes due to signal problems.

# UPDATE: All Camden line trains are experiencing approximately 30 minutes delays due to signal and switch problems.

# Attention Camden and Brunswick Riders: CSX has issued heat orders for this afternoon starting at 1:00pm, until 7:00pm. Trains on both lines will operate 20 miles per hour under the normal maximum authorized speed but not less than 40 miles per hour. Delays can range from 10-15 minutes. We apologize for any inconvenience.

The forecast is for 100-degree temperatures again tomorrow. Wise MARC riders will plan for the worst.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:17 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train
        

MARC woes compound in the heat

Here's the 6:24 p.m. update on MARC from the MTA:

# Penn Line UPDATE:  Due to damaged wires and single tracking, all trains continue to experience delays approx.  30-40 minutes late. Train 436 ( 5:30 PM departure from Union Station) has just left Union Station 40 minutes late.
# Brunswick Line Passengers:  Service delay 15-20 minutes due to signal problems.
# MARC Train 534 approaching BWI  (Departing 5:47 PM) is operating 20 minutes late due to single track operation.
# MARC Train 439 approaching Halethorpe operating 15 minutes late due to late equipment turn.
# UPDATE:  All Camden line trains are experiencing approximately 30 minutes delays due to signal and switch problems.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:31 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

MARC reports 'major' disruptions

With the temperature reaching 105 today at BWI, it should come as no surprise that the MARC train system is having what the MTA is calling "major disruptions." Here's the latest:

# UPDATE:  All Camden line trains are experiencing approximately 30 minutes delays due to signal and switch problems.
# UPDATE:  All Penn Line trains are experiencing approximately 30 minute delays due to damaged overhead wires (catenary) just outside of Washington Union Station causing a single track operation.
# MARC Train 848 to Baltimore/Camden is operating 40 minutes late approaching Muirkirk due to signal problem.
# UPDATE: MARC Train 530 approaching Bowie station (depart 4:46 PM) is 50 minutes late.

In heat like this, the only surprise is that conditions aren't worse. At least we can be thankful the MTA isn't dismissing the disrupptions  as "minor."

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:46 PM | | Comments (0)
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MTA reports Penn Line delays

From the Maryland Transit Administration:

All North and South bound MARC Trains on the Penn Line will experience 20-30 minutes delays due to single tracking.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:34 PM | | Comments (2)
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MARC train that was stalled reaches Baltimore

UPDATE: My observer aboard MARC reports that the train that had  been stalled reached Penn  Station about 25-28 minutes late. She said the Amtrak crew was courteous and communicative about what was happening, but the air-conditioning never did work properly.

REPORTED EARLIER: A source aboard MARC says a northbound Penn Line train was stalled about 10 minutes outside Union Station without air-conditioning before power was restored 15 minutes later. The MTA said the problem was with the Amtrak-owned overhead power supply but that the train is moving again -- but slowly.

Amtrak must have learned something from the June 21 fiasco. My source says there is water aboard -- not cold, but at least it's something.

Here's an update from aboard: "After approx. 15 minutes, the lights came on, followed by the A/C. 10 minutes later, we started moving. We traveled maybe 2 miles before the lights and A/C went out again, but we kept moving. As I write this sentence, we are approaching Bowie at speed."

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:36 PM | | Comments (1)
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Someone has something good to say about MARC

If you're a MARC rider, your trains may be late, slow or too hot, but at least you can feel good about what you're doing for the environment.

According to the group Environment Maryland,  the state's  commuters saved 7.1 million gallons of gasoline -- or the amount consumed by12,000 cars a year -- by riding MARC in 2008 alone.The group said in a report that MARC service reduces global warming pollution by 51,000 tons a year.

“Each time someone rides MARC, they are voting with their feet to make Maryland more energy independent,” said Tommy Landers, a policy advocate with the environmental group.  “The best way to avoid future oil spills is to put us on the path to using less oil.”


Of course, that means Amtrak and CSX could do a great thing for the environment if the actually provide a level of service that would keep commuters riding MARC, which received a setback last month when an Penn Line train was left to bake in the hot sun for two hours while Amtrak forgot the comfort and safety of the passengers. It was one of a series of MARC lapses in recent weeks.


Continue reading "Someone has something good to say about MARC" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:50 PM | | Comments (0)
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July 1, 2010

Ruppersberger introducing MARC-related bill

U.S. Rep. C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger will hold a news conference Friday morning at the BWI/MARC station at which he'll announce plans to introduce a bill in the U.S. House requiring transit providers to take precautions to protect riders' safety and comfort.

Called the Commuter's Bill of Rights,  the legislation follows on the heels of the June 21 incident in which more than 900 MARC riders were stranded on the Penn Line in extreme heat for two hours while an Amtrak crew concentrated on making repairs.

The Second District Democrat's bill would require  public transit operators to provide water and other services for passengers stranded on trains or other forms of transit. It would also set a time frame for transit crews to allow passengers to leave a disabled transit vehicle.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:43 PM | | Comments (4)
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MTA non-answers a rider's questions

On Wednesday night, both Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley and Maryland Transit Administration chief Ralign T. Wells owned up to the fact the communication with riders is the agency's No. 1 weakness.

It's good that these officials, who seem genuinely concerned about providing good service recognize the problem. But it might be even worse than they think.

Consider the case of Melissa Schober of Baltimore, who wrote a well-reasoned and well-informed email to Wells after a particularly bad commute June 22 -- a night of troubles that was overshadowed by the even worse problems the night before. Schober also had the moxie to share a copy with Getting There, a  practice this blog enthusiastically encourages.

Schober's June 25 email and Wells' reply, attached below, provide a vivid picture of the brain death that affects parts of the MTA. Here they are, you judge:

 

Mr. Wells:


Tuesday evening I was subject to one of the worst commutes I’ve ever experienced. I boarded the 4:15PMWAS departure train to Baltimore Penn Station. A few minutes after pulling away from the platform, the train experienced partial engine failure. We reversed into the station – a process that took more than 30 minutes – and were shuffled onto another train.

Continue reading "MTA non-answers a rider's questions" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:09 AM | | Comments (3)
        

June 29, 2010

MD transportation chief calls for Amtrak review

Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley just released the following statement in the aftermath of last night's incident in which an Amtrak-operated MARC Penn Line train overshot the Odenton station:

A message to MARC customers from
Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley

Monday evening, the Amtrak crew in command of MARC Train 538 to Baltimore failed to stop at Odenton Station as scheduled.  I was aboard MARC 538 and experienced first-hand the severe frustration of my fellow passengers at the failure of Amtrak to carry out even this very basic task of stopping at a scheduled station.  Additionally, two trains experienced extended delays because of mechanical problems.  Last night, I contacted the highest levels of Amtrak senior management and demanded a full accounting of these issues.  These fundamental failures come on the heels of last Monday's incident when passengers aboard MARC 538 were stranded for over two hours after the locomotive suffered a power failure.  The inadequate response that evening is under investigation by the Federal Railroad Administration, Amtrak and the Maryland Transit Administration.

Continue reading "MD transportation chief calls for Amtrak review" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:16 PM | | Comments (3)
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Amtrak regrets misleading MARC passengers

An Amtrak spokesman acknowledged today that the crew of a Penn Line MARC train that overshot Odenton station Monday night had given passengers incorrect  information about the cause of the incident when they blamed "track conditions" rather than operator  error for the failure to stop.

“They should not have done that,” said spokesman Steve Kulm. “They should not have provided that reasoning or cause.”He added that the railroad will investigate how the false account came to be given to passengers, as well as the incident itself.

Kulm declined to say whether the engineer was on the job today or whether disciplinary action had been taken. “He is being handled appropriately,” Kulm said.

The spokesman said it is not a common occurrence for a train to skip a scheduled stop.

“It’s not a good event. It should not have happened,” he said. But he added that Amtrak had responded better than it had after last week’s breakdown that left passengers stranded in sweltering conditions on the tracks near Cheverly, making unscheduled stops of its Acela train to pick up riders  at BWI and drop them off at Odenton.

Amtrak operates and supplies crews for the Penn Line under contact with MARC.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:31 PM | | Comments (4)
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MTA keeps tight grip on information

The first thing I want to make clear is that Terry Owens, the new chief spokesman for the Maryland Transit Administration, did not put me up too this. I asked some pointed questions and he gave honest answers. I hope that doesn't get him trouble.

What I asked Owens was simply whether he received a log each morning of incidents that occurred over the previous night.  To me, it seems like a no-brainer to provide such information to the public affairs office as a matter of routine. But his  answer was no. Logs of the previous day's performance are shared with "senior managers" but not the person in charge of answering questions from the media and the public. If somebody inquires about an overnight  lapse in service, the public affairs officer has to go dig out the information from the operations managers.

My experience suggests that these worthies are often less than forthcoming when approached by MTA spokespeople.


Continue reading "MTA keeps tight grip on information" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:59 AM | | Comments (2)
        

Top officials to meet MARC riders

Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley and Maryland Transit Administration chief Ralign T. Wells are scheduled to meet Wednesday with members of the MARC Riders Advisory Council in Washington -- a little more than a week after the infamous "hell train" incident left almost 1,000 passengers stranded on the tracks near Cheverly for two hour in sweltering heat.

The meeting is set for 4 p.m. in Room 337 of  the Hall of the States Building, 400 N. Capitol St., near Union Station. 

Council Chairman Rafi Guroian said the group had invited Gov. Martin O'Malley, who is sending  Swaim-Staley to represent him. Guroian said council members plan to press Swaim-Staley to clarify concerns about what happened last week and to address ways MARC can better communicate with riders. Guroian said Amtrak President Joseph Boardman is also expected to attend the meeting, which will be open to the public.

"The meeting will likely be quite lively, given the cast of characters that will be there and some of the first-hand experiences many of our members had on that train," Guroian wrote.

Swaim-Staley and Wells have been regular riders on MARC since last weeks incident and were on board Train 538 Monday night when it skipped its stop at  the Odenton station.

MARC service became an issue in this year's gubernatorial race when former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. issued a statement last week  criticizing O'Malley's appointees, Swaim-Staley and Wells, for not having met with the advisory council since taking their posts last year.


 
Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:24 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train
        

Amtrak apologizes for missing Odenton station

Amtrak took responsibility today for a lapse Monday night in which a northbound Penn Line MARC train missed its stop at Odenton station in Anne Arundel County -- forcing passengers to continue to the BWI station to catch a southbound train back to their destination.

Maryland Secretary of Transportation  Beverly Swaim-Staley and Maryland Transit  Administration chief Ralign T. Wells were both aboard the train, MTA spokesman Terry Owens said.

"They were not at all happy," Owens said. "We are extremely disappointed with Amtrak's performance and we have conveyed that to the highest levels of Amtrak management."

Joseph Boardman, chief executive of Amtrak, released a statement in which he apologized to more than 150 passengers who were inconvenienced by the mistake aboard Train 538, the same one that was stranded a week before for two hours in blazing temperatures.

Boardman said the incident is  being reviewed but that the early  indication is that "the engineer began to slow the train too late and as a result continued past the Odenton station by about three car lengths before coming to a stop." By the  time the train came to a stop, he said, it could not back into the station because another train was coming up behind it.

Amtrak said Odenton-bound passengers were transferred to an Acela Express train that  stopped at Odenton to let them off. The railroad, which operates the Penn Line under contract with the Maryland Transit Administration, estimated the delay at 30 minutes. The Amtrak chief and other managers appeared at the Odenton station this morning to apologize to commuters in person.

Several MARC riders reported that the train crew's first reaction was to blame track conditions rather than engineer error. Kevin Cup of Severn, who said he was sitting in the lead passenger car  of the train that overshot the station, said regular passengers noticed that the train was approaching Odenton too fast. 


Continue reading "Amtrak apologizes for missing Odenton station" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:44 AM | | Comments (26)
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June 28, 2010

Penn Line train misses Odenton stop

The Penn Line 538 train -- the same one that was stranded in the blazing heat last week -- missed its stop at the heavily used Odenton stop Monday night. Riders who wanted to get off at Odenton had to get off at the BWI Airport station and take a southbound train back to their station.

According to riders who reported this turn of events, the explanation was that "track conditions" prevented the stop at Odenton. Since the train apparently rumbled right through the station, passengers were skeptical of that explanation -- as am I.

Even though this was an action of an Amtrak crew, the MTA owes riders a credible explanation.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:53 PM | | Comments (3)
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June 25, 2010

Could MARC backup plan be working?

It's not sure that the Maryland Transit Administration's strategy of using two locomotives on some of its larger Penn Line trains will prevent a long, hot summer of delays. But this email from Pete Smith of Abingdon gives a glimmer of hope:

Maybe this interests only me, but it strikes me that perhaps MARC has taken at least one lesson to heart after the "hell train" debacle, and perhaps those at the MTA responsible for following up would be interested in learning about this.

As MARC #530 (the 4:24 pm departure from Washington en route to Perryville) approached Odenton this evening, the power cut out. We coasted into the Odenton station and passengers detrained as usual.  And then we waited to proceed to Baltimore.  Then we waited some more.  Then the dreaded announcement that in fact the locomotive did breakdown.  Before we could have our moment of deja vu, however, the conductor announced that the engineer was moving to the second, backup locomotive and would try to get us moving shortly.  Sure enough, we were moving again within moments.

As local transit observers and readers of your blog alike noted, it would seem to be a good idea to have some sort of contingency in place to avoid stranding passengers in the future. One of those ideas was to have two locomotives on the trains, you know, just in case.  It's been quite a challenging week for MARC, but I tip my cap to the MTA for what appears to have been the quick enactment of some sensible changes that spared me and my fellow passengers another evening of woe.

Pete Smith

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:33 PM | | Comments (1)
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June 24, 2010

Hot times on the MARC train

With the mercury hitting 100 this afternoon, there was bound to be trouble on MARC. It's already started. Donna DeLeno Neuworth, a passenger on the northbound Penn Line train that left Union Station at 4:15 reports there is no air-conditioning in any of  the cars and that riders were "sweaty, dripping, angry people" as they left BWI Station on the way to Baltimore.

But, hey, it hadn't stalled out, as Monday's "hell train" did. Just think of it as a free mobile sauna for the price of a train ticket.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:56 PM | | Comments (3)
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June 23, 2010

O'Malley to ride MARC, talk with riders

Gov. Martin O’Malley is planning to venture into the lion's den - so to  speak.

The governor is planning to ride the MARC Penn Line and talk with rail commuters this morning – three days after a breakdown on the tracks left almost 1,000 commuters sweltering for two hours on a train without air-conditioning.

The governor is scheduled to meet with the media at 8 a.m. at the BWI Station before boarding a MARC train to New Carrollton. After boarding, he is planning to discuss the need for improvement in service with MARC passengers.


Continue reading "O'Malley to ride MARC, talk with riders" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:54 PM | | Comments (5)
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June 22, 2010

Yet another account of Train 538 debacle

Here's another account of the MARC Train 538 saga from Monday night, this from a passenger named Jamie who prefers not to have his last name used. THis is one more reason I believe a public hearing about this incident is necessary:

 Jamie wrote:

I was aboard the MARC train 538 that broke down monday night and all of the passengers stories are accurate. It was horrible. We were told by an AMTRACK police officer that if we busted out the windows or got off the train we would be arrested and/ or fined. It was stifling in there.

Continue reading "Yet another account of Train 538 debacle" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:19 PM | | Comments (3)
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MARC update: Tuesday night follies

Here's the report from passenger Aaron Jones on the strange adventure of MARC Train 442 tonight:

7:36 p.m. In an almost comical coincidence, MARC 442 which has 2 trains worth of people on it due to 440 being canceled, is stopped south of bwi due to a downed tree which took down a wire and is laying on the tracks. With a line down I'm sure we won't be going anywhere for a while. The conductors so far are making announcements left and right to make up for last night. 

8:24 p.m. Update: marc 442 reversed, but passed odenton.  Then passed it again. We were just informed that we are reversing again and we will actually stop in odenton this time.  And they tell us that mta is going to provide busses to ALL station stops.

 9:03 p.m. My wife came to pick me up but we gave a ride to some people because it appeared the busses would be a while.  There were none at the station when we arrived.

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:07 PM | | Comments (0)
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MARC lists 'minor disruptions'

This is the MTA's list of MARC problems tonight as of 8:01 p.m. It appears, as it so often does, under the MTA's favorite description: "Minor disruptions." Does this look minor to you? Oh, it doesn't include Train 442, still wandering around Odenton after 9 p.m. after being blocked by a fallen tree and wires.

The Washington Metro will be honoring MARC tickets this evening

. Penn: MARC 443 (725p BAL Dp) will be operating approximately 15 minutes late from the Baltimore terminal.

Brunswick: MARC 883 (715pWAS Dp) will be departing Washington approximately 60 minutes late due to late arriving equipment.

Penn : Marc train 534 is operating 45 minutes late from Washington to Perryville.

Penn : Train 443 out of Baltimore 7:25 pm is operating 25 - 30minutes late.

Penn line train 538 deprted Washington 25 minutes late.

Penn line train 443 out of Baltimore 7:25 pm will make all stops to Washington.

Brunswick line train 883 out of Washington 7:15 pm is expected to operate 45 minutes late.

CSX has issued heat orders for this afternoon starting at 1:00pm, until 7:00pm. Trains on both lines will operate 20 miles per hour under the normal maximum authorized speed but not less than 40 miles per hour. Delays can range from 10-15 minutes.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:53 PM | | Comments (4)
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MTA chief apologizes for MARC breakdown

Apologies were flying all over today after last night's incident in which MARC Train 538 was stranded for two hours in 90-degree temperature with no air conditioning on the Penn Line. Amtrak chief Joseph Boardman issued statement of regret (next blog post down), and here is one from MTA Administrator Ralign T. Wells:

 

Yesterday evening the locomotive pulling MARC Train 538 failed.  As is typically the case the train was full with more than 900 riders on board.  The train stopped safely but without power and air conditioning, the temperature rose to uncomfortable levels.  It was more than two hours before all the passengers were transferred to other MARC trains.
This circumstance was unacceptable, and on behalf of all MTA employees, I apologize for the inconvenience and discomfort you experienced.


 

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Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:10 PM | | Comments (4)
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Amtrak apologizes for MARC 538 failure

Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman released this statement today about Monday night's two-hour stranding of MARC Train 538 without air conditioning on the Penn Line tracks south of New Carrollton:

 

WASHINGTON –Yesterday evening, MARC Train 538 lost power soon after leaving Washington Union Station, resulting in loss of air conditioning and uncomfortable conditions for passengers who waited about two hours for a resolution.

On behalf of Amtrak, I extend my most sincere apologies to the passengers of Train 538 for having to withstand unacceptable conditions and inconveniences during this service disruption. We fell short of providing the service we strive to deliver.

In conjunction with the Maryland Transit Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration we are conducting a thorough investigation of the incident. In addition, we are also evaluating our procedures to identify opportunities to improve our response in similar situations.

We take this matter very seriously and take responsibility for this failure. We will identify the cause or causes of yesterday’s disruption, and we will take corrective action. We value our MARC passengers and we will take steps to improve the service.

Again, I offer my apologies to all of our MARC passengers, as well as to the people of Maryland, for having fallen short of the service you should expect from us. We should do better and we will do better.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:28 PM | | Comments (6)
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Baltimore has a stake in Prince George's decision

Gov. Martin O'Malley's decision last week to relocate the Department of Housing and Community Development from Crownsville to Prince George's County. is almost certainly good politics -- and it could turn out to be good policy as well.

When you think about it, it just doesn't make much sense to locate a department that mostly serves urban communities on a leafy suburban campus far from transit routes.  And Prince George's is an important population center with far superior transit connections.

But while the news is undoubtedly good for Prince George's, it could go either way for Baltimore. Certainly it's not like moving a department out of Baltimore to fulfill a pledge to that county -- as former Gov. Bob Ehrlich tried with the Department of Planning. But some Baltimore-area employees of the department could be severely inconvenienced if the  wrong decision is made about where to locate in Prince George's County.

Continue reading "Baltimore has a stake in Prince George's decision" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:07 AM | | Comments (6)
        

MARC meltdown deserves hearing, probe

Last night's disastrous performance of MARC Train 538 should make the end of business as usual at the Maryland Transit Administration.

The details are still murky, but what appears clear is that the Penn Line train broke down a few miles  north of Union Station on a blazing hot day. The air condiitioning failed, and it took about two hours to get any relief to the sweltering, information-starved passengers. Here's an excerpt of one of the emails Getting There received:

Many passengers had removed the emergency exit windows in an attempt to get relief.  Those that could walked up Route 50 to the Cheverly Metro station and transportation to New Carrollton where family members could pick them up.  Medical emergencies also occurred due to the extreme heat in the cars and about the same time the TV crew showed up Fire and Rescue vehicles began pulling up.  Frankly if someone left their dog locked up in a car for 1 and 1/12 hours like this they would be arrested

You bet.  And MARC riders deserve both answers and assurances such a fiasco won't happen again. It's one thing to have a breakdown that makes people late. Bad stuff happens. But when a transit agency leaves riders in potentially dangerous heat conditions, that's inexcusable.

Continue reading "MARC meltdown deserves hearing, probe" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:41 AM | | Comments (6)
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June 21, 2010

A miserable night on MARC

I'm getting a load of email from MARC passengers tonight about a meltdown on Train No. 538. This sounds like a bad one. Here's some of the mail. Some of the senders aren't in a position to be identified.

"(My train) died 10 minutes out of Union Station with no power. Approaching 2 hours, and it's about 100 degree on the train. As you see below, it's almost an hour after we allegedly were being hooked to a locomotive. Some folks are getting off in hopes of reaching New Carrollton; others are removing the emergency windows. One fellow started a petition of sweaty passengers to give to MARC. Some have called 911, and a fire truck and ambulance  just pulled up on the nearby shoulder of Rt 50. Just another sterling Marc adventure......"

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:55 PM | | Comments (9)
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June 16, 2010

For a second view of MTA event, grab a Brew

It never hurts to have a second view of a public event, and Fern Shen of Baltimore Brew provides another account of MTA Administrator Ralign Wells' appearance before the Transit Riders Action Council earlier this week.

For the most part, Shen's account tracks the one on Getting There. It needs to be pointed out that while Shen put a lot of emphasis on the Red Line controversy, it only came up in the last 15 minutes of a 2-hour presentation, and the discussion was for the most part nonconfrontational.

The members of TRAC are a politically savvy bunch, and they  know Wells was not in a position to back down on the Red Line. The current Red Line light rail plan, after all, represents a decision made by his ultimate boss -- Gov. Martin O'Malley -- as well as the institutional opinion of his agency. To their credit, TRAC members spent most of the time concentrating on matters they could influence. Then they got their requisite licks in on the Red Line.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:32 AM | | Comments (0)
        

June 15, 2010

MTA chief outlines priorities

The top official of the Maryland Transit Administration says he's trying to instill a new  culture of individual responsibility and customer service at the often-criticized agency, outlining a series of steps he has taken or plans to take since being appointed to head the MTA last year.

"I'm very frustrated that there's a poor perception of transit,"  said MTA Administrator Ralign Wells. "What I'm trying to do is change the perception of transit."

Wells held a wide-ranging, almost two-hour discussion Monday night with members of the Transit Riders Action Council of Metropolitan Baltimore. But while he found considerable support for his priorities among members of the pro-transit organization, Wells and TRAC politely agreed to disagree on the MTA's most ambitious local project: the proposed east-west Red Line.

Wells, who rose  through the  ranks from bus operator to head of the agency,  presented himself as an unabashed cheerleader for bus and train travel, frequently emphasizing that "I love transit."

Rejecting what he called some legislators' portrayal  of transit as "welfare transportation," Wells argued that the service is vital to society. "Public transit is a public service -- not unlike a police department or a fire department,"  he said. "If you're not using it, it's still benefiting you" -- by keeping other vehicles off the roads.

The Sun/Kenneth Lam

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Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:46 AM | | Comments (23)
        

June 11, 2010

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.

Continue reading "MARC experiment to go on despite glitch" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:46 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train, Maryland toll facilities, On the roads
        

June 9, 2010

MARC Watch: What do you expect this summer?

Getting There would welcome comments from MARC riders on the commuter rail system's recent performance and expectations for the summer. It  would be even better if commenter were willing to be contacted for an article in The Sun.

Please comment here or send an email to michael.dresser@baltsun.com.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:08 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: MARC train
        

June 3, 2010

A view from the right on the MTA

For a view from the right on the Maryland Transit Administration, you need go no farther than the Red Maryland blog, where Brian Griffiths holds forth on the state of the MTA. It came to my attention recently that Griffiths was complaining that because of alleged leftist leanings I wouldn't link to his posts when I was linking to Maryland Politics Watch. In fact he never asked me to do so or even called attention to his work.

This doesn't constitute an endorsement of Griffith views, any more than I endorse those of Maryland Politics Watch. I would note, however, that the MPW article I most recently linked to -- though it had a point of view -- was solidly grounded in hard data.

The Red Maryland article, on the other hand, was almost entirely grounded in ideology. Entitled "Starve the Beast," it contains such gems as: "If I were in charge of the MTA, I would take steps to make the Agency profitable. There are ways to make the system self-sufficient without making the system unsafe or transit fares unaffordable to average riders."

Continue reading "A view from the right on the MTA" »

June 2, 2010

Brown announces guaranteed-ride plan

In his role as the state's coordinator of military base relocation actions, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown says the state will spend  $200,000 toward creation of Maryland's first "guaranteed ride home" program to provide Fort Meade transit users with an emergency backup plan.

Brown, chairman of the Governor's Subcabinet on Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), announced the ride initiative as part of an overall Transportation Demand Management Plan for Fort Meade.

The guaranteed-ride program is based on a 13-year-old program in the  Washington area that ensures rides home during the day for transit riders who need a ride home because of an unexpected emergency  or because they have to work unscheduled overtime.

Under that program, registered participants who use transit  twice a week or more are eligible for up to four free rides home each year. The rides are provided by taxi or rental car, depending on distance. Commuters must work in the Baltimore Metropolitan area and live in a somewhat larger region that includes the metro area plus  parts of the Eastern Shore and southern Pennsylvania.

 

 

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Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:15 PM | | Comments (1)
        

MARC Halethorpe station machine broken

The Maryland Transit Administration recently posted the following news from Halethorpe. If this is the worst going on with the MARC system these days, that's good news. It was about this time last year I noticed a long stretch of good performance on MARC's part and commented on it. Then service fell apart as locomotives went down left and right. So I won't say anything, Yet.

The ticket machine at Halethorpe is out of service. Technicians have been called but the machine may not be repaired by Tuesday morning. One way and round trip tickets may be purchased on the train without the $3 surcharge, cash only, no bills larger than $20 are accepted. We regret the inconvenience

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:25 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: MARC train
        

May 27, 2010

Security drill at train stations finished

A surprise security drill at Maryland train stations, which raised curiosity among many morning rail commuters, is over now and has been pronounced a success.

Col. John E. Gavrilis, chief of the Maryland Transit Administration Police, said the exercise at multiple Maryland MARC stations was part of a  a larger operation including law enforcement agencies along the Eastern Seaboard.

The drill,  which was not announced in advance, lasted from about 5 a.m. to 9 a.m., Gavrilis  said. It included a variety of agencies, including federal air marshals, the Transportation Security Administration, the MTA police, the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, the Baltimore Police Department and other local police agencies. The event was not  announced by the MTA until after it was over.

 

Continue reading "Security drill at train stations finished" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:19 AM | | Comments (1)
        

Camden Yards is scene of security exercise

If you're in the Camden Yards area this morning, you might notice an unusual amount of police activity. Don't worry. According to the Maryland Transit Administration, it's part of a security exercise. Here's the MTA's news release:

MTA POLICE CONDUCT RAIL SECURITY EXERCISE


Local exercise will target MARC Train stations on the Penn, Camden, and Brunswick Lines.


(BALTIMORE, MD) May 27, 2010 - The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) police will take part in a multi-jurisdictional police exercise to hone coordinated security monitoring skills on Thursday, May 27, 2010 as part of a major effort to enhance rail safety along the East Coast.


Continue reading "Camden Yards is scene of security exercise" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:37 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: City bus service, Light rail, MARC train, MTA bus system
        

May 20, 2010

MARC spending over the years

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. caught my attention recently when he said he would pull the plug on light rail for Baltimore's Red Line and the Washington suburban Purple Line and focus spending on, among other things, rehab of MARC.

That got me to wondering about the relative levels of spending on MARC during the first Ehrlich term and the O'Malley years. Here are the totals for both capital and operations spending, provided by  the Maryland Department of Transportation.

Fiscal Year                 Total Investment in millions (000)

FY 2003                 $  71,509

FY 2004                     76,944

FY 2005                     76,708

FY 2006                     97,488

FY 2007                   101,622

FY 2008                   144,831

FY 2009                   195,314

FY 2010 (Projected)       162,099   

Fiscal years begin July 1. The first fiscal year of a governor's term (FY2003 for Ehrlich, FY2007 for Martin O'Malley) generally reflects a combination of that governor's decisions and his predecessor's.  The second fiscal year is a better reflection of that governor's priorities.  The fiscal 2010 figure may be incomplete.

What do these figures mean? MARC riders (and others) are welcome to weigh in.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:45 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train
        

MARC sets new ridership record

As Yogi Berra might say, is MARC getting so crowded that nobody rides it anymore?

The Maryland Transit Administration says the commuter rail line recorded a new high in daily ridership in April with an average of 34,617 boardings a day -- up 4.2 percent from the same month last year.

The MTA said ridership on the Penn Line was up 3.5 percent, while the Camden Line posted an impresive 8.9 percent jump. Boardings on the Brunswick Line, which runs between Washington and West Virginia, grew 3.1%.

MTA Administrator Ralign T. Wells pointed to passenger growth at BWI Marshall Airport as one of the factors in MARC's growth.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:28 PM | | Comments (18)
Categories: MARC train
        

May 6, 2010

Trespasser killed by Amtrak train south of BWI

The following just came in from the Maryland Transit Administration's MARC notification service:

An Amtrak Acela Express train has struck a trespasser between BWI and Odenton.  All service on the Penn Line is suspended until further notice.  Train 520 will hold at Odenton.  Train 427 will hold in Baltimore.  Updates to follow.

It was followed later with:

Penn line service has been restored with delays 30 - 45 minutes to trains 422,427,520 and 424. Train 427 is not canceled out of Baltimore.

The Associated Press is reporting that person was in fact killled by the train. There is no identification at this time. Amtrak is warning of continuing delays this afternoon in the Northeast Corridor.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:01 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads, MARC train
        

April 30, 2010

MARC trainmaster speaks

The Stuck on MARC blog is running an interesting interview with trainmaster Dave Johnson. There's some good tidbits about the mob mentality that develops at Union Station on some stressed-out evenings.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:11 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

April 9, 2010

MARC to suspend express train (corrected)

CORRECTION: April 19 is the date of the change.

The Maryland Transit Administration is planning to suspend its 7:21 a.m. Penn Line express train from Union Station to Penn Station April 19 to accommodate track work Amtrak will be performing around Bowie.

The move has prompted grumbling among some of the regular riders of that train, but MARC director John Hovatter said there's little the MTA can do about it. Amtrak, after all, owns the tracks, and MARC must bend to operational necessities.

Hovatter said that even if MARC had continued to run the 7:21 a.m. train it would have been unable to do so as an express.  He said riders of that train will have two alternatives: the 506 operating nine minutes earlier and the 408 running 16 minutes later. Hovatter noted that the 506 makes only three stops between Washington and Baltimore.

"We are desperately trying to get another train out there," he said.

Continue reading "MARC to suspend express train (corrected)" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:34 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

March 30, 2010

MTA seeks volunteers to test new 'smart' card

The Maryland Transit Administration is seeking volunteers to help test its planned "smart" electronic fare card, which is now scheduled to roll  out this fall.

The new card will allow passengers to pay the exact amount of their fare out of pre-established accounts by tapping the card against a sensor or the gate or  farebox.

The test of the unfortunately named CharmCard -- aren't you all sick of this Charm City this, Charm Ciity that? -- will include local buses and the Metro subway as well as bus and rail transit services in the Washhington area.

Continue reading "MTA seeks volunteers to test new 'smart' card" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:42 AM | | Comments (11)
        

March 29, 2010

MTA chief weighs in on communication issues

MTA Administrator Ralign Wells plans to disable some of the agency's less reliable email notification services and go back to the drawing board.

Wells says he's been disappointed with the performance of the services that are supposed to notify passengers of problems on the Metro subway and bus lines. He plans to discontinue them until they can be done right.

The MTA chief called to follow up on a complaint registered recently by Alisa Bralove-Scherr about a problem she had with the Metro in which the email notification service failed her. Bralove-Scherr had arrived at the Owings Mills station anout 9:30 one morning only to be told the station was closed and that she would have to go to Old Court to catch a train. None of the MTA employees she encountered could explain what happened.

Continue reading "MTA chief weighs in on communication issues" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:28 PM | | Comments (4)
        

March 17, 2010

Penn Station signs stop, urinals gush

Jon Morgan, a former Sun colleague who occasionally acts as one of my spies on the MARC system, reports the following deficiencies in his inspection of Penn Station this morning:

Penn Station’s big board listing arrivals and departures was taken down some months ago as part of the renovations of the station, and a new one put up maybe a month or so. But it has never been turned on or operated. There are small signs saying it’s being tested. But how much testing does a board like that need? Meanwhile, the mens room was threatening to create a cholera epidemic this morning (with) all three urinals overflowing at the same time. It’s a great way to start the day.

To which, Amtrak spokeswoman Tracy Connell replied:

 

Continue reading "Penn Station signs stop, urinals gush" »

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

March 9, 2010

MTA trip planner is up and running

The Maryland Transit Administration got some grief on this blog last week for the dysfuctional state of the trip planner on its web site -- and the fact the agency wasn't telling its customers the service was out of order.

But now the planner is back on line and dispensing useful information about which buses and rail lines will get you where. The MTA is to be commended for its timely recovery.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:26 PM | | Comments (4)
        

March 5, 2010

U.S. announces transit grants for Maryland

Maryland willl receive an additional $26.3 milllion in federal stimulus money for transit improvements ranging from buses in rural areas to better speakers at MARC sttations, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced Friday.

According to the U.S. Transportation Department, the Maryland Transit Administration will receive these grants:

• $17.1 million toward rebuilding the  bus loop at the MTA’s Mondawmin Transit Center; heating and ventilation upgrades; light rail yard switches upgrades and replacement or overhaul of 24 rail substation circuit breakers.


• $4.3 million for facility renovations, preventative maintenance, shop equipment and parking lot construction.


• $2.9 million to improve MARC public address systems.


• $2 million to purchase nine buses for transit systems in rural areas of the state.

The money is part of the $48.1 billion available nationwide  under last  year's stimulus legislation for highway and bridge,  transit, shipyard and airport construction an repairs.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:36 PM | | Comments (4)
        

March 1, 2010

MTA hopes to have trip planner restored soon

The out-of-order trip planner on the Maryland Transit Administration web site will be back in operation soon, MTA spokeswoman Angela White says.

White said the service stopped working because of a snow-related lapse in recertifying the schedule information used to generate the trip plans. Google Transit, which provides the platform for the service, requires participating transit agencies to periodically certify that their information is correct.

White said the MTA was in the process of recertifying the data when the first of two snowstorms hit Feb. 5. She noted work at the agency was disrupted for about a week when state government was shut down and when many employees couldn't make it to work. She initally said it would be restored by late this week or early next week, but later said the service could be fixed even sooner.

The spokeswoman said she did not know why the MTA initially failed to post on its web site the fact that the trip planner was out of order. Before late Monday, when the MTA put up a notice in response to a call from Getting There, users of the service did not learn it wasn't working until they had filled out their address information.

 

Continue reading "MTA hopes to have trip planner restored soon" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:03 PM | | Comments (4)
        

MTA trip planner isn't working

The Google Transit-powered trip planner on the Maryland Transit Administration's web site isn't working. According to a reader, it's been out of operation for several weeks.

These things happen, but why wouldn't the MTA put a notice on its web site informing customers the service is out of order? This appears to be part of a pattern with the MTA of treating its web site as an afterthought instead of using it as a powerful tool to communicate with riders.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:07 AM | | Comments (3)
        

February 10, 2010

MARC train service canceled

MARC train service has been canceled on all lines this morning. No trains will run on the Penn, Brunswick or Camden lines. A decision has not yet been made about Thursday service.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:27 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

February 4, 2010

MARC plans full service -- with earlier trains

The MARC commuter system is planning to run a full schedule tomorrow, but with some trains departing Washington earlier to help commuters escape an expected snowstorm a few hours early. MARC will also increase  railcar capacity on its 12:30 Penn Line  departure from Washington, which could be packed.

Here's the latest from the Maryland Transit Administration:

Attention MARC Passengers--

Full service will operate on all three lines on Friday, February 5. In anticipation of the large snowstorm forecast for tomorrow, MARC has made the following changes to service for Friday, February 5 ONLY:

Penn Line: No additional trains will operate, but starting with train 520 (12:20pm departure from Washington), the larger rush-hour trainsets will be used on all trains.

Camden Line: Train 852 (5:51pm departure from Washington) will be cancelled. An extra Camden Line train will depart Union Station at 2:00pm making all stops to Camden Yards.

Brunswick Line: Train 877 (4:55pm departure from Washington) will be cancelled. An extra Brunswick Line train will depart Union Station at 2:40pm making all stops to Martinsburg, WV. Train 871 (Friday-only 1:40pm departure from Washington) will operate as scheduled.

The latest predictions are that the snow will begin in the late morning. Please exercise extreme caution tomorrow when arriving at your station, parking your car, walking to and boarding your train.

Thank you for riding MARC Train Service.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:54 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

Metro to close stations if snow exceeds 8 inches

The Washington Metro will close its above-ground stations if this weekend's expected snow accumulation exceeds 8 inches. The Maryland Transit Administration is warning MARC riders to be sure they can make their train connections Friday evvening if the snow falls faster than expected. Here's the MTA's release:

Attention MARC Passengers who transfer from Washington Metrorail to MARC at New Carrollton, College Park, Greenbelt, Silver Spring, and Rockville-- Please be aware that Washington Metrorail will close all above-ground stations when snow accumulation reaches eight inches or more. While that level of accumulation is not anticipated by the end of tomorrow's rush hour, please have a backup plan to get to your MARC station in the event your Metro station closes.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:02 PM | | Comments (0)
        

January 28, 2010

Maryland gets $70 million in federal rail funds

Two high-priority Maryland projects will receive $70 million in funding as part of the $8 billion in rail investments announced yesterday by the Obama administration.

Jack Cahalan, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Transportation, said the state will recived about $60 million toward engineering and preparation of environmental impact statements on a project to replace the more than 100-year-old Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel just west of Penn Station on the way to Washington along Amtrak's Northeast Corridor.

Replacement of the tunnel, a significant bottleneck for Amtrak and MARC Penn Line trains as they pass thhrough Baltimore, is expected to eventually cost on the order of $1 billion, Cahalan said.

Receiving $10 million in funding is a project to replace the Amtrak station and add a new platform at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Cahalan said. That money will also be used for engineering and ebvironmental statements -- a  necessary step before coonstruction on the $80-$100 million project can begin. As part of that project, Cahalan said, the state will add a fourth track to the current three and  build a middle platform so that all tracks can be used for getting on and off. Currently only two of the three tracks can be used for that purpose.

Cahalan said that in addition to improving Amtrak service, the tunnel and station improvements are also part of MARC's long-range expansion plan.

 

 

Continue reading "Maryland gets $70 million in federal rail funds" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:32 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads, MARC train
        

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.

Continue reading "MARC news could be worse" »

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

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
        

January 13, 2010

New diesel locomotives make debut on MARC

Could  deliverance for MARC riders be at hand?

In response to overwhelming interest among MARC riders. Getting There asked Maryland Department of Transportation Department spokesman Jack Cahalan for the latest on the new diesel locomotive that are expected to allow the commuter rail service to finally retire some of the venerable engines that have been hauling trains for more than three decades.

The news appears to be good.

Sun photo/Karl Ferron

Continue reading "New diesel locomotives make debut on MARC" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:39 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: MARC train
        

January 5, 2010

Amtrak fatality causes MARC ripple

A fatal incident this morning on the Amtrak tracks in Middle River this morning continues to affect service on the MARC Penn Line -- perhaps dragging into the evening commute.

Fourteen-year-old Anne Marie Stickle was killed just after 9 a.m. when she was hit by and Amtrak train while she and another teenager were walking along the tracks between her home in the 700 block  of Maple Crest Drive and Kenwood High School. According to police, the girls were not authorized to be on the tracks.

Here are some of the recent service updates issued by MARC:

 Due to earlier delays and cancellations, train 520 northbound Washington to  Perryville and train 535 southbound Perryville to Washington are both cancelled for today.  The next departure will be train 422. 

Continue reading "Amtrak fatality causes MARC ripple" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:16 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: MARC train
        

MARC riders: Now I feel your pain

As an occasional rider of MARC commuter trains, I had enjoyed a remarkable string of good luck. Never had I encountered the kind of infuriating delays that I have written about other people enduring over the years. My MARC experiences,  unlike those of many readers, were almost entirely positive.

That streak ended Monday evening when I arrived in a rush at Penn Station to catch the 7:05 p.m. train to Perryville, where I hoped to catch a late dinner with  my wife at the excellent Grist Mill Tavern. Greeting me on the board  was a notification that the train would be 40 minutes late.

It turned out  to be more like 45 minutes, By the time we arrived, about 9 p.m., the restaurant was closed and we had to scramble to make other arrangements. What an  authentic taste  of llife on MARC.

Anyway, there was one glimmer of light. It was nice to see that the Java Moon restaurant and bar had opened in Penn Station about a month ago -- giving the delayed traveler the option of having a  cold beer and sandwich instead of just sitting on the station's uncomfortable seats. The new place fills a longstanding void at Penn Station.  Cheers!

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:06 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: MARC train
        

January 4, 2010

A rare commute from Perryville

For reasons involving my wife's employment, I found myself this morning on the 6:30 a.m. MARC Penn Line train out of Perryville, bound for Baltimore. It might be routine for some commuters, but it was a new experience for this Howard County auto commuter.

All in all, it was not at all a bad way to go, and with a connection on the No. 64 bus, I was at work in an hour and a quarter. There's no crowding on the stretch northeast of Baltimore, so it was quite comfortable.

I do have one question for the MTA, however. Why just one ticket machine in the Perryville station? The lines do stack a bit up there, and it seems foolish not to have some redundancy to deal with the inevitable glitches.

See you there again Tuesday.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:45 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train
        

December 31, 2009

MTA modifies bus routes due to snow

The Maryland Transit Administration is keeping its bus routes rolling, but in many cases, it has modified routes as a concession to the snow. Here's the damages, straight from the MTA:

10:00am latest update:

MARC Train is operating on S schedule and experiencing 10-20 minute delays.
Metro and Light Rail are on schedule.

The following diversions are posted on the website.  A link was put on the Special Announcements section.
No. 1 Terminates at Mondawmin.
No. 5 Bus by-passing Park ave.
No. 9  Bus terminate at  Ridgley and Cranbrook.
No. 13 Bus by-passing Edgewood, staying on Dennison.
No. 15 Bus terminates at Walbrook Junction. West bound left at Guildford, right at Fayette, right at Park, left at Saratoga. Will service White Marsh Mall.
No. 16 Bus by-passing Violet Ville and Brooklyn area.
No. 20 Bus is by-passing St. Agnes Hospital, and Culver and Monastery
 
No. 22 Bus terminates at Eastern &  Ponca – bypass Bay view.
No. 23 Bus  by-passing Wildwood Parkway
No. 23 and 40 use Lombard to Ponca to Eastern in both directions.
Nos. 27, 29, and 51 Buses are staying on Cherry Hill Road
Nos. 10, 35, 33 and 27 pulled off the street.
No. 36 Bus  by-passing Argonne Drive, staying on the Alameda
No. 40 WB will terminate at Edmondson Village, not servicing Rt 40 & Rolling Rd.
No. 44 Bus WB from Rosedale will terminate at Northern Parkway @ York.  EB from Security will terminate at Sinai.
***All services will by-pass the Bay view Medical Center***

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:47 AM | | Comments (1)
        

December 24, 2009

Why MARC doesn't allow most bikes

There was a lot of discussion on the Getting There blog last week about MARC and bicycles, with some readers questioning why the Maryland Transit Administration isn't more open to bringing the two-wheelers on board. I suggested that bringing bicycles aboard the trains could pose a safety hazard. Now we're getting the official version from Henry M. Kay, the MTA's deputy administrator for planning and engineering (at right in 2005 Sun photo).

Here's his explanation of MTA's policy:

When MTA tuned up its bike policies a decade ago we took a close look at MARC with the idea of making it as bike-friendly as Light Rail and Metro (since then the buses were also equipped with racks).  Commuter railroads are very diverse in terms of their ridership, equipment, stations and operating environments so what might work on one system won’t work on another.  As you correctly identify, our challenge is crowding on peak period trains and the safety issues associated with unsecured and protruding objects.  The Penn Line in particular is the fastest commuter railroad in the nation so strict safety standards are in place.

 

Continue reading "Why MARC doesn't allow most bikes" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:00 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: MARC train
        

December 23, 2009

Top 10 Md. transportation stories: 2000-2009

Apart from disasters, transportation stories tend to unfold over the course of many years. Some of the ones that garner big headlines at the time will be all but forgotten in a few years time. So in choosing the Top 10 Maryland transportation stories of the past decade, it helps to project forward to 2020 or 2030 and look back at what made a lasting difference.

A little disclosure is in order. I have covered transportation for The Sun since 2004 and before that followed many transportation-related stories as a State House Bureau reporter. So there might be a bias in favor of the stories I covered. (Thanks to my colleague Scott Calvert to reminding me of the Howard Street Tunnel fire, which occurred before my time on the beat.)

With those caveats, I present my top 10 in the bottom-to-top format made wildly popular by David Letterman:

10. Light rail double-tracking project completed. When Baltimore's light rail system opened early in the 1990s, it soon became clear that the system had been built on the cheap. The decision to run trains on a single track over long stretches led to constant delays and operational difficulties. Thus, under the Glendening administration, the decision was made to add a second track. The Ehrlich administration then made a tough decision to expedite the work by closing down the southern and northern stretches of the system for periods of about a year. It was a rough time for light rail users, but the project was finally completed in early 2006, and the result has been much more reliable service on this still image-impaired system.

 

                                                                                                 Sun photo/Amy Davis/2006      

Continue reading "Top 10 Md. transportation stories: 2000-2009" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:33 AM | | Comments (7)
        

December 21, 2009

MTA keeps going through the snow

 

                                                                                        The Sun/Karl Merton Ferron            

An MTA bus passenger waits for a ride Saturday.          

The Maryland Transit Administration did a little crowing Monday -- but I don't think you can blame the agency. They kept the buses and trains rolling through the worst of the weekend's snowstorm.

In a news release Monday, the agency noted that it kept local bus, light rail and Metro subway servvice going through the worst of the storm. It might not have run perfectly -- who could expect that with 21 inches of snow coming down? -- but it never ground to a halt as some regional transit agencies did.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley had good reason to be proud of her people when she released the following statement.

Despite severe weather conditions, the MTA maintained service throughout the
blizzard. I have tremendous pride in our employees who persevered, literally, in the eye of the storm to keep our service moving assafely and efficiently as possible.

The MTA's operations people deserve such kudos. It was a tough job -- especially with the Ravens hosting a game Sunday. And they came through. That's what happens when you let real professionals run a transit system.

December 14, 2009

Should MARC allow bikes on board?

 

 

Sun photo/Amy Davis            

There's an interesting article -- followed by a spirited discussion -- on the Greater Greater Washington blog about the wisdom of allowing bicycles on MARC trains.

As much as I like bikes and bicyclists, I'm skeptical. I tend to consider worst-case scenarios and I can't help but think that having bicycles on a rail car such as the one above -- without having a safe place to secure them -- could be a real safety hazard in the case of a derailment. In a crowded car, they could become an obstruction; in an uncrowded car, I can see them becoming a missile.

Instead, I would propose a solution employed by one gentleman of my acquaintance. He rides a bicycle to Penn Station and parks it there, takes the train down to Greenbelt, picks up a second bicycle that he keeps there and pedals to his workplace.

Cost should not be a big issue for most riders. Anyone can pick up a used second bike for a fraction of the cost of a new one through the print or online classified ads. Rather than lobby to get bikes on trains, bicyclists ought to concentrate their efforts on getting safe, secure bike lockers at each station.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:00 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Bicycles, MARC train
        

December 4, 2009

Wells appointment getting good reviews

Gerald Neilly welcomes the appointment of Ralign T. Wells as chief of the Maryland Transit Administration in an article in The Baltimore Brew.

It's just one of the favorable reactions I've been hearing to the promotion of the 42-year-old former bus operator to the top MTA post.

Ed Cohen, former president of the Transit Riders Action Council, knows the Balltimore bus, Metro and light rail system about as well as anyone on the planet. His verdict: "He's the best guy MTA has."

Cohen said Wells, who had been the deputy administrator for operations, was the candidate transit folks had been rooting for ever since the departure of Paul J. Wiedefeld was announced.

"He loves his job. He loves trying to make transit better to the extent he can," Cohen said. "He's a guy that really relished tthe challenge and it'ss that character trait that is reallly going to  mean good things for MTA."

Meanwhile, deputy Baltiimore transportation director Jamie Kendrick called the choice by Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley "phenomenal," adding that Wells  has the support of the agency rank-and-file.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:22 AM | | Comments (1)
        

December 3, 2009

Wells appointment at MTA lauded

The news of the appointment of Ralign T. Wells as chief of the Maryland Transit Administration brought this reaction from Ken Chapman, a retired MTA employee who now lives in Charlotte, N.C.:

As a recent, 31 year retired MTA management employee (November 2008), I certainly applaud the decision by both the Secretary and Governor to appoint Mr. Wells as MTA Administrator. I happen to be an employee who also came up through the ranks, working in several departments. And yes, Mr. Wells is the ONLY employee who managed to come up through the ranks and land the Administrator’s job. He is not a political type who relies on politicians to get a job or advance his career. Mr. Wells is simply a transit official who is very well respected and comes with great leadership abilities.

Mr. Walter J. Addison was the first MTA Administrator, followed by Kimble, Wagner, Hartman, Agro, Freeland, White (Acting), Smith, Dickerson and Wiedefeld. In addition, Mr. Wells has experienced Deputies who should serve him well. I know. I worked with all of them and they certainly understand what it takes to advance transit in Maryland.

By the way, the salary of the new MTA chhief will be $183,000.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:04 AM | | Comments (0)
        

December 2, 2009

MARC locomotive update: Looking better

The MARC system stands or falls on the strength of its locomotives, and a few months ago it was virtually falling apart on the Penn Line because so many of its electric engines were disabled. Late trains and trains with too few cars were a daily olccurrence.

But Amtrak found a way to fix the AEM-7 locomotives that had been laid up for more than two years, and the engines are gradually working their way back into service. Maryland Department of Transportation spokesman Jack Cahalan provided the following update as of Wednesday, saying the MTA is continuing too make progress:

 

Two of the AEM-7’s are now in revenue service and performing well.  In fact, I saw one of the MARC AEM’s operating solo last week when I was waiting for a train at BWI station.

The third AEM is in revenue testing on the Penn Line paired with another locomotive.  Same testing process MTA did for the first two.

The fourth AEM is still with Amtrak but work should be completed by the middle of this month.  It will then go through the same revenue test process as the other three.

Cahalan said the certification work being done on the 26 new model diesels the MTA has been eagerly awaiting  since the spring is 80 percent complete and is expected to be completed in the next few weeks.  If nothing unexpected crops up, he said, the first of the new diesels will enter revenue testing -- powering an actual train but with a backup locomotive -- by the end of this month.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:01 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train
        

Former bus driver Wells is new MTA chief

Ralign WellsMaryland Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley announced the appointment Wednesday of former bus driver Ralign T. Wells to head the Maryland Transit Administration.

Wells, an MTA veteran who is now deputy administrator for operations, will replace Paul J. Wiedefeld, who is leaving the MTA after almost three years as administrator to return to his old job as chief executive of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

In choosing the 42-year-old Wells for the $183,000 post, Swaim-Staley and Gov. Martin O'Malley are turning to a veteran MTA insider who began his career at the agency two decades ago as a bus operator. At the MTA, Wells has served in a variety of positions, including deputy director of bus operations and director of Metro subway operations.

Swaim-Staley said Wells was responsible for implementing a new MTA scheduling policy that cut the agency's overtime budget by 26 percent in eight months.

 

 

Ralign T. Wells

December 1, 2009

Much ado about MARC seats

Let me first assure all of you riders out in MARC land that I love you and I feel your pain as you endure the unspeakable agonies of llong-distance commuting.

But try as I might to work up waves of sympathy for your plight, I can't see what all the fuss is about when it comes to the seats on the double-decker cars recently acquired from Virginia Railway Express.

After receiving several complaints about the seats on the new rail cars on MARC's Penn Line, I decided the matter deserved investigation. So on Monday afternoon I took a trip on the MARC line from Penn Station to Union Station and back so that I could subject the new seats to a personal rump test.

Continue reading "Much ado about MARC seats" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:42 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: MARC train
        

November 30, 2009

'Horrible' MARC seats prompt modest suggestion

Brenda Edmonds of South Baltimore, a MARC rider who boards in Halethorpe, has a suggestion for the "horrible" rail cars that recently made their debut on the Penn Line.

If we are stuck with them. I wish MARC would put them in the rear of the trains where the people who get off at the earlier stops would use them. Because only certain doors open at Halethorpe and West Baltimore we have no choice but to sit in the first three cars of the train. That extra half hour between Bowie State and Halethorpe is enough to make my rear and legs go numb in the new cars.

I could not even imagine sitting on one of those seats all the way to Perryville! But more often than not they are placed in the front of the train and I am stuck using them. I am not usually a complainer, I go with the flow when the trains are not running on time, but this is asking a lot when my legs and back are killing me by the time I get home.

Now I have a question: These rail cars, which MARC acquired from Virginia Railway Express, were in service on the Camden Line for months and I heard not a peep. But once they were put on the Penn Line, I'm hearing lots of complaints. Is there some kind of cultural divide  between Camden and Penn? Are the backsides of Camden riders tougher after years of riding freight rails?

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:38 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: MARC train
        

November 11, 2009

Montgomery Council opens door for transit study

The Montgomery County Council, led by Chairman Phil Andrews, might just have opened a door they would have preferred to keep closed.

Ben Ross of the Action Committee for Transit points out that the solution Andrews suggested and the Council endorsed for relieving congestion in the Interstate 270 corridor -- the addition of two reversible express lanes between Shady Grove and Frederick -- is not  one of the alternatives included in the State Highway Administration's I-270 Corridor Study.

To move in the direction the Council suggests would require a new study of the plan's costs and feasibilty, Ross notes. So if transportation officials decide to reopen the study to examine one plan, Ross asks, why not open it up to other alternatives -- including ACT's suggestion of an all-transit option for relieving the corridor's stress?

It seems to me that Ross has a point. A lot has happened since transit was last  looked  at, including massive cost increases for some of the alternatives that have been studied. I'd also like to have them take a glance, at least, at my suggestion of a single reversible lane for buses and high-occupancy vans only at peak times. (Let trucks use it off-peak to separate them from cars.)

Some proponents of widening I-270 to the max have dismissed the notion of any further study -- insisting it will only delay the project. But all you have to do is look at the finances of the Maryland Transportation Authority and you'll see it may be a long time before any project of the magnitude of an I-270 widening can be financed.

So let's study away: the Andrews plan, the Ross plan, the off-the-wall-Baltimore-Guy plan, whatever.

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:20 PM | | Comments (3)
        

October 29, 2009

More Amtrak problems for MARC

What is it with Amtrak and New Carrollton anyway?

On Wednesday morning Amtrak had a locomotive fire near the Prince George's County station, delaying MARC service by an hour or more. This afternoon, another Amtrak engine is disabled south of  New Carrollton causing "major disruptions" on the Penn Line, according to the MTA.

Apparently the blockage is forcing northbound and southbound trains to share a single track to get around. To see a list of Penn Line trains affected, click below.

 

 

Continue reading "More Amtrak problems for MARC" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:05 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: MARC train
        

October 28, 2009

MARC hopes to do better this evening

It was one of those mornings on the MARC Penn Line. An Amtrak engine caught fire at New Carrollton and blocked the line and caused delays that affected Northeast Corridor traffic. The blockage caused MARC delays of an hour or more, according to Maryland Transit Administration spokeswoman Cheron Wicker. Several trains were canceled outright.

Wicker said that at midday, MARC trains were still running 30-40 minutes behind schedule. She said the rail system hopes to have the trains running on time during this evening's peak travel time.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:47 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

October 26, 2009

Police to screen baggage at MARC stations

The Maryland Transit Administration Police will launch a program of random security checks at MARC commuter train stations Friday, using bomb-sniffing dogs to screen passengers' luggage and packages to detect explosives.

The MTA warned riders that delays could occur and urged passengers to allow extra time to board trains on the Penn, Camden and Brunswick lines.

 Lt. Col. John E. Gavrilis, chief of the MTA police, said the tighter security is not a response to a specific threat but part of a general effort to "target-harden" Maryland transit facilities. He said the effort will begin at MARC stations but would eventually extend to the Baltimore Metro and light rail stations.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:15 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: MARC train
        

October 23, 2009

Dorsey clock still off the MARC

It's disconcerting to arrive at a MARC station and to have the clock on the station tell you that you've missed your train.

That was my experience when I used the MARC station at Dorsey about six months ago, and Thursday was  a repeat. On both occasions, the big clock on the Camden Line station was running about 15 minutes fast.

I know the tansportation budget is  tight, but couldn't the Maryland Transit Administration scrape up a few bucks to get its timepiece fixed? Railroads, after all, were the inspiration for accurate and  standardized timekeeping.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:13 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: MARC train
        

October 21, 2009

MARC: Locomotives not guilty in morning madness

 

AEM-7

 

Sun photo/Kenneth Lam                     

There's good news and bad news about the MARC system this morning.

First the bad: It was a miserable morning's performance on the Penn Line, with delays leading to canceled trains and overcrowding on the ones that did run.

The good news: The two AEM-7 electric locomotiives that recently returned to the tracks after some three years in an Amtrak repair yard were not the culprits.

Jack Cahalan, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Transportation, explained that the morning's woes (detailed here) were caused by a malfunction in the cab car of the train for which the AEM-7s (one of which is shown above) were providing the power. He said the system that failed was the one that picks up electric signals from the track. Without that system, the train can't run. When one train can't run, there's a cascading effect allong the entire line as equipment fails to find its way into the proper position, Cahalan said. Three trains ended  up being canceled.

 

 

Continue reading "MARC: Locomotives not guilty in morning madness" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:16 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: MARC train
        

October 19, 2009

MARC, unlike Virginia line, sticking with Amtrak

The news in the Washington Post over the weekend that Virginia Railway Express has decided to dump Amtrak and award a contract to a French firm to operate its trains made me wonder whether a similar move is in MARC's future.

The answer is no. Not on the Penn Line, at least.

According to Jack Cahalan, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Transportation, MARC is in the second year of a five-year contract with Amtrak to operate its commuter trains on the Penn Line (Perryville-Washington) and the state has no plans to solicit bids from another vendor.

It's a different story on the Camden (Baltimore-Washington) and Brunswick (Martinsburg, W.Va.-Washington) lines. On those lines, freight  railroad CSX wants out of the business of hauling passengers.  Cahalan said the state has issued a bid solicitation for another provider to operate trains on those CSX-owned lines. Bid are expected in by the end of the year, he said.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:45 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

Power restored on MARC Penn Line

The latest from MARC:

  • Penn Line Update: Due to earlier electrical problems train 417 southbound is operating 15-20 minutes late, northbound train 410 is operating 30-35 minutes late.
  • Penn Line:  Electrical power is restored, trains are moving. Expect delays in both directions 10 to 30 minutes late. Metro is still honoring tickets. Updates will follow.
  • Penn Line: All trains (MARC and Amtrak) with electric
    locomotives are stopped due to electrical power failure from Washignton
    to New York. Diesel locomotives can operate but we will expect possible
    delays of undetermined time. METRO will honor MARC tickets. Updates
    will follow.

  • Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:00 AM | | Comments (1)
    Categories: MARC train
            

    October 16, 2009

    Second MARC electric locomotive back on tracks

    Amtrak has finished overhauling and has returned to MARC the second of four AEM-7 electric locomotives that had been out of service for more than two years, bolstering the commuter rail system's ability to haul long trains and reduce crowding.

    Maryland Department of Transportation spokesman Jack Cahalan said the newly returned locomotive performed well on the first of  a series of tests in which it hauled a train equipped with a backup locomotive -- the first of the AEM-7s returned by Amtrak.

    Cahalan said that locomotive has perfomed acceptably since being returned to MARC. He said the Maryland Transit Administration is hopeful that Amtrak has found a lasting solution to the electrical problems that sidelined the AEM-7.

    With the return of the second AEM-7, MARC's fleet of electric locomotives -- which can haul longer trains than the system's diesel engines -- is up to eight. Two AEM-7s remain in Amtrak's Wilmington repair yard. MARC also operates six HHP-8 electric locomotives, which have remained in service despite a record of sporadic breakdowns.

    In recent months a thin roster of locomotives has forced MARC on many days to run trains with fewer cars than usual -- exacerbating its crowding problems on the Penn Line. The electric locomotives are used only on the Penn Line. When too few are available, MARC has to substitute its less powerful diesel engines.

     

    Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:04 PM | | Comments (0)
    Categories: MARC train
            

    October 7, 2009

    MARC to reinstate fee for on-board purchases

    The MARC commuter train system will resume its policy of collecting a $3 surchage from passengers who board at a station where they coould have bought a ticket from a vending machine, the Maryland Transit Administration has announced.

    The charge, which had been waived for the  past six months  to allow customers to get used to the newly installed machines at some of its stations, will be reinstated Nov. 2, according to the MTA.

    An employee of the MTA's public affairs office said MARC conductors have been "inundated" wiith riders attempting to buy tickets. She said that making change on the purchases is "burdensome" on conductors."

     

     

    Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:18 PM | | Comments (1)
    Categories: MARC train
            

    Engine's return raises hopes for MARC

    MARC train riders shouldn't get their hopes up too much but there just might be some good news coming their way.

    According to Amtrak spokesman Steve Kulm, the national passenger railroad just recently returned the first of MARC's four AEM-7 electric locomotives to the Maryland Transit Administration after almost three years of being laid up in a repair shop in Wilmington, Del. He said a second locomotive is expected to be returned to  the MTA late this week or early next week.

    Kulm said Amtrak believes it has found a fix for a vexing electrical problem that has sidelined the locomotives and hope to have the remaining two returned to MARC before the end of the year.

    A shortage of electric locomotives has been the main reason that MARC has been forced to run short, crowded trains on the Penn Line in recent months. When too few electric locomotives are available, MARC has to substitute less powerful diesel engines that can pull fewer cars. The locomotive shortage also leaves the system vulnerable to breakdowns that can force train cancellations.

    The return of two locomotives might not seem like a big deal until you look at it as 20 percent of MARC's fleet of electrics. With the four AEM-7s in the shop, MARC has had to rely on its six HHP-8 locoomotives (known as Hippos) -- a model with a less-than-stellar record of avoiding breakdowns.

    Maryland Department of Transportation spokesman Jack Cahalan confirmed that the MTA has been putting the returned engine through a round of testing and that so far it has passed.

    "The phrase cautiously optimistic is one you will hear repeatedly from us," Cahalan said.

    Stay tuned. We hope to have more details in Thursday's Sun.

     

    Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:47 AM | | Comments (0)
    Categories: MARC train
            

    September 10, 2009

    Naked trespasser delays MARC train

    A MARC Penn Line train was delayed for about a half-hour Thursday morning by a naked man who was trespassing on the Amtrak tracks near Bowie.

    Penn Line rider Jon Morgan, a former Sun colleague, said he was told by a conductor that a fellow conductor and a couple of federal agenct on the train -- one from the Secret Service and one from U.S. customs -- "hogtied" the unclothed individual.

    MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene said the delay occurred on Train 509 to Washington about 7:15 a.m. Greene said the man was subdued and arrested, allowing the train to resume its journey.

    The incident shows that "anything can delay a MARC train," she said.

     

    Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:11 AM | | Comments (4)
    Categories: MARC train
            

    September 9, 2009

    Blog weighs in on Yellow Line idea

    I just stumbled across the Transport Politic blog, which gives some extensive coverage to a recent proposal to advance the proposed Yellow Line from Towson to Columbia ahead of an extension of the Green Line.

    I share the concerns that light rail to Columbia may be too slow to compete with autos. The public transit solution I'd suggest for Columbia is an express bus between the BWI Business District Light Rail station and Columbia Town Center. I don't see that it would kill the 310 or 320 commuter  bus routes, as one reader suggested, though it might lead to their being reconfigured. I see the express bus serving a much broader group of riders with seven-day-a-week service that would extend the existing light rail without the expense of an actual rail line.

    Any thoughts?

     

     

     

    Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:48 PM | | Comments (8)
            

    This is getting old on MARC

    It's more of the same-old on MARC that's been going on for the last three weeks. With working electric locomotives in short supply on the Penn Line, MARC has had to use less powerful diesel engines that can pull fewer trains. As a result, the Maryland Transit Administration is putting out messages like this one -- passes on by a reader -- on a daily basis:

    Attention, Penn Line Passengers--

    Due to a shortage of electric locomotives, the following trains will be operating with one car less than usual: This afternoon--train 426 (3:27pm departure from Washington), train 436 (5:34pm departure from Washington), and train 538 (6:05pm departure from Washington).

    Tomorrow morning--train 401 (4:40am departure from Baltimore Penn), train 411 (7:00am departure from Baltimore Penn) and train 513 (6:30am departure from Perryville / 7:15 departure from Penn Station).

    MARC regrets the inconvenience.

    Penn Line riders who want to weigh in on recent service for an article in The Sun are invited to do so. Send email to michael.dresser@baltsun.com and enclose a phone number where you can be reached during the day Thursday.

    Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:00 PM | | Comments (2)
    Categories: MARC train
            

    September 8, 2009

    MARC woes drag on

    A three-day weekend for Labor Day apparently failed to give MARC the respite it needed to deal with its equipment problems on the Penn Line.

    The problems that afflicted the line all last week -- and the week before -- continued Tuesday and will apparently drag into Wednesday with no relief in sight. Meanwhile, Maryland Transit Administration officials are doing little to explain the issues to frustrated riders.

    Here's the latest message, for what it's worth:

    Due to a continued shortage of electric locomotives, the following trains will be operating with one car less than usual:

    This afternoon--train 426 (3:27pm departure from Washington), train
    436 (5:34pm departure from Washington), and train 538 (6:05pm departure from Washington).

    Tomorrow morning--train 401 (4:40am departure from Baltimore Penn), train 411 (7:00am departure from Baltimore Penn) and train 513 (6:30am departure from Perryville / 7:15 departure from Penn Station).

    MARC regrets the inconvenience.

     

    Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:33 PM | | Comments (1)
    Categories: MARC train
            

    Bolt offers option to D.C.

    Martin Johnson of Baltimore  notes an everyday option for getting to and from Washington without a car that might not be familiar to most readers.

    Bolt Bus offers seven buses a day from Penn Station to the Greenbelt Metro Station each day at a cost of $15 on weekdays and $16 on weekends.  Once you're in Greenbelt, you can reach almost anywhere you'd want to go in the Washington area via subway and Metrobus.

    Whether this is a good deal depends on how you value your time and how easy it is to catch the bus. The Bolt Bus ride takes 45 minutes. Greyhound takes 55 minutes to deliver you to downtown D.C. at a prevailing cost of $13.50 nonrefundable, $17.50 refundable. It has many more trips but a poorly located station in an industrial area south of the stadiums.

    The most economical 7-day-a-week option is still the combination of the light rail ($1.60) to BWI and the B-30 bus ($3) to Greenbelt Metro. That trip (measured from Mount Royal station to Greenbelt) can take anywhere from an hour and a quarter (roughly) to an hour and three-quarters depending on whether you catch the train that's synchronized with the B30. Checking the schedules is well worth the time.

    Of course, the MARC train remains the best way to get between the two cities on weekdays -- except during periodic service meltdowns. It's a wise MARC rider who prints out the Bolt Bus,  Greyhound, light rail and B30 schedules and keeps copies in a purse or briefcase. You never know.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:31 PM | | Comments (2)
    Categories: Light rail, Local bus lines, MARC train, WMATA/D.C. Metro
            

    September 3, 2009

    Could MARC relief be in sight? Not quite yet

    The MARC follies wiill drag into yet another day Friday as equipment shortages continue to hamper service on the Penn Line. Thursday evening's 5:34 train out of Union Station will run one car short, as will Friday's 6:30 a.m. departure from Perryville and the 7:15 a.m. train out of Penn Station.

    MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene said the problem is siimply aged locomotives. She added, however, that a disagreement between the agency and the manufacturer of 26 new locomotives that are expected to hustle some old units into retirement has been resolved.

    The catch, she said, is that it could take a few weeks to get the locomotives' safety documentation together. The modified agreement will alo have to go to the Board of Public Works for approval, she said.

     "There's light at the end of this long tunnel," she said. One can only hope.

    By the way, the Odenton station will not be staffed Friday beccause of a budget-related furlough. But the station platform will be open and MARC will be running a full schedule -- minus whatever breaks down.

    Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:46 PM | | Comments (2)
    Categories: MARC train
            

    September 2, 2009

    MARC lacking loco-power

    The Maryland Transit Administration could use a locomotive if you have one you could spare for the MARC Penn Line.

    The beleaguered commuter rail line is groveling in the direction of its ridership as it moves into the third straight day of running short one car on some trains because of a shortage of locomotives to pull them.

    According to the MTA, the 5:43 p.m. train out of Union Station will be short one car (and likely jam-packed as a result). On Thursday morning, the trains departing Perryville at 6:30 a.m. and Baltimore Penn Station at 7:15 will also be a car short.

    The MTA told riders it is working with Amtrak to get more of its locomotives out of the shop and back on the tracks so that it can handle its usual load.

    The agency's web site, naturally, is describing the matter as a "minor disruption."

     

    Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:49 PM | | Comments (1)
    Categories: MARC train
            

    Group would speed Yellow Line, slow Green Line

    The Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, a group that brings together the movers and shakers in the Baltimore region, has endorsed what could be a critical change in the metropolitan area's long-term plans by urging that the proposed Yellow Line from Lutherville to Columbia be made the top transit priority after connstruction of the proposed Red Line.

    The alliance's recommendation, which represents a consensus view of Baltimore business and ciivic leaders, would jump that project ahead of the proposed extension of the current Metro subway beyond Johns Hopkins Hospital toward Morgan State and eventually White Marsh. It came as part of a report relleased Wednesday on Baltimore's prospects for transit-oriented development.

    Both projects lie far in the future, but the effect of such a change of priorities could be profound for today's young workers and future generations. If adopted by government leaders, the new priority could accelerate job growth and transit service in such places as Towson and Columbia in the 2020s while delaying an expansion of transit in the Harford Road and Bel Air Road corridors until later decades.

    Otis Rolley, president of the transportation alliance, said the Yellow Line -- part of a 2002 comprehensive regional transit plan -- offers better prospects for connecting major residential and employment centers than the Green Line plan.

     

    Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:03 PM | | Comments (9)
            

    August 20, 2009

    MARC having 'major' disruptions - finally

    The Maryland Transit Administration is reporting "major" disruptions on MARC tonight. There's nothing particularly surprising about  that. What's  new is that the agency isn't dismissing the problems as "minor" -- as it usually  does.

    Jeff Qunton at Inside Charm City has complied a long of what went wrong on the Penn and Brunswick Lines today. It isn't pretty --  mechanical failure, canceled trains, late trains.

     

     

    Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:19 PM | | Comments (6)
    Categories: MARC train
            

    August 17, 2009

    MARC train takes a dive

    A reader wanted to know what the heck went wrong on the Penn Line this morning. It's a familiar story: A locomotive broke down, Train 405 out of Penn Station had to be cancelled and following trains were crowded. MTA spokeswoman Cheron Wicker said the breakdown was heat-related. "It was a rough to the morning but it straightened itself out," she said. With the MTA mired in a dispute with the manufacturer of its new, $100 million fleet of 26 locomotives, MARC riders can expect little relief this summer. With a little luck, maybe the new locomotives will be in service by next summer -- allowing the MTA to retire some of the breakdown-prone "turkeys" in its inventory. Or not.
    Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:54 PM | | Comments (3)
    Categories: MARC train, MARC train
            

    MARC train takes a dive

    A reader wanted to know what the heck went wrong on the Penn Line this morning. It's a familiar story: A locomotive broke down, Train 405 out of Penn Station had to be cancelled and following trains were crowded. MTA spokeswoman Cheron Wicker said the breakdown was heat-related. "It was a rough to the morning but it straightened itself out," she said. With the MTA mired in a dispute with the manufacturer of its new, $100 million fleet of 26 locomotives, MARC riders can expect little relief this summer. With a little luck, maybe the new locomotives will be in service by next summer -- allowing the MTA to retire some of the breakdown-prone "turkeys" in its inventory. Or not.
    Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:54 PM | | Comments (3)
    Categories: MARC train, MARC train
            

    August 14, 2009

    Taking time to vet new equipment can pay off

    It has to be frustrating for MARC riders to realize there are 26 new locomotives in the pipeline -- held up by the Maryland Transit Administration's demands for more extensive testing -- at a time when old locomotives are breaking down and causing long delays for riders.

    The following link may provide a clue to why the MTA is being so persnickety:

    http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2009/02/wes_service_off_track_for_seve.html

    The manufacturer is not the same as the one that made the locomotives for MARC, but the principle is the same.

    It's just a shame that the MTA  didn't explain the reasons for delay up front instead of having to have the information dragged out of it. At  some levels of the organization, there seems to be an institutional impulse to conceal rather than reveal. Often, its managers leave the MTA's public affairs people out of the loop when there's bad news. Then they're surprised when the agency gets hammered in the media.

    So even when MTA does the right thing, it does it the wrong way.

     

     

    Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:51 AM | | Comments (1)
    Categories: MARC train
            

    August 13, 2009

    New rail cars on MARC, but not on Penn Line

    Some riders of the MARC Penn Line have been wondering whatever became of the 13 double-decker railcars the Maryland Transit Administration recently bought from the Virginia Railway Express.

    The answer, accordiing to Maryland Department of Transportation spokesman Jack Cahalan, is that they are in service but only on the Camden and Brunswick lines. He said the MTA is currently seeking Federal Railroad Administration certification for the cars to operate at sppeds up to 125 mph. Once it receives that certification, Cahalan said, the MTA will be able to use the cars on the frequently crowded Penn Line as well.

    Cahalan said the MTA conducted tests of the cars over the weekend and that the MTA bbelieves they passed with flying colors. He said the MTA submitted its documentation to the federal agency and hopes to have permission to use them on the Penn Line by the end of the year.

     

    Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:39 PM | | Comments (6)
    Categories: MARC train
            

    How do you tell a blind man he's in the quiet car?

    Sometimes I get an email that's worth a blog post all its own. Such a message came from Frank Irizawa of Elkridge. Call me insensitive, but all I could think of when reading this was that it would make a great skit in a Farrelly Brothers (There's Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber)  comedy. So who would you cast as the blind man? I was thinking John Cleese.

    Hello,
     
    We had an interesting situation on the Camden 847 this morning, with a blind passenger. It highlighted the need to have all train stops announced each and every time on every train. The conductors on this train very rarely, if ever, announce any stop. It is always a very smooth running train and always arrives early but they do always neglect the announcements.
     
    A blind passenger with a cane boarded at the Greenbelt station. He ended up in the Quiet car because he was having trouble finding an empty seat. There were plenty of empty seats available but he was sticking his cane out too far and hitting the legs of whoever was sitting next to the empty seats, and assuming that the seat was taken. It seemed that he was not familiar with the seating arrangements of the single-story cars commonly used on the Camden line. He starting exclaiming in a very loud voice that "I can't find a seat". 
     

    Continue reading "How do you tell a blind man he's in the quiet car?" »

    Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:44 AM | | Comments (3)
    Categories: MARC train
            

    August 12, 2009

    MARC locomotive explanations getting stale

     

    Sun photo/Karl Merton Ferron

    It iis now more than three months since Gov. Martin O'Malley chugged into Camden Station alongside the engineer of one of the Maryland Transit  Administration's new, $3.5 million locomotives that were supposed to make this summer a little bit better than last summer for MARC commuters.

    At the time, MTA officials said three of the locomotives -- the first of 26 purchased for MARC -- would be put into service within four to six weeks. More than two months after the governor's photo op, The Sun ran an article (click below for fulll version) noting the delay and providing the MTA's explanation that it was simply putting safety first.

    At the time, MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene said the MTA hoped to have the locomotives in service within 30 days.

    Nearly a month later, the locomotives are still not on the tracks, MTA officials are delivering the same tired lines and customers are getting tired of delays caused by broken-down locomotives.

    And what does the MTA have to say?

    "We're trying to get them in service as soon as possible," Cheron Wicker, another MTA spokeswoman, said Wednesday. "We've got some really stringent safety regulations that have to be adhered to."

    Continue reading "MARC locomotive explanations getting stale" »

    Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:05 AM | | Comments (3)
    Categories: MARC train
            

    August 11, 2009

    Paging Daniel Gooden

    The Maryland Transit Administration sent out this curious email Tuesday, passed on by a reader:

     August 11, 2009 12:05 PM

    MARC is trying to reach Mr. Daniel Gooden in connection with a lost and found item. Mr. Gooden if this notice reaches you please contact us at www.mtamaryland.com

    I'd say that's a pretty activist lost-and-found department.

    Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:41 PM | | Comments (0)
    Categories: MARC train
            

    August 4, 2009

    "Minor" MARC problems return with the heat

    Having sweltered outside today for Gov. Martin O'Malley's twin transit press conferences, it comes as no surprise that there are heat restrictions on the tracks of both the Camden and Brunswick lines. Riders on those lines know they've enjoyed a mild summer to date and that they'd have to pay the pipe sometime.

    If the delays are no more than the Maryland Transit Administration is advertising, they could amount to no more than "minor" disruptions. But the MTA, if it had any sense about customer relations, would stop using the word "minor" on its web site -- as it is currently doing at 5:30. Just calll them "disruptions," folks. Nobody likes to hear their own headaches described as minor.

    When will they ever learn?

     

    Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:23 PM | | Comments (0)
    Categories: MARC train
            

    July 22, 2009

    Major angst over 'minor'

    The Maryland Transit Administration ignored my sage advice about the provocative use of the word "minor" to describe MARC customers' long delays in getting home when something goes wrong.

    Maybe they'll listen to a MARC rider, Jeff Quinton, who described his experience tonight and his reaction to that provocative word on the insidecharmcity blog. http://insidecharmcity.com/2009/07/22/major-minor-disruptions-for-marc-tonight/ 

     And maybe pigs will fly.

     

    Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:20 PM | | Comments (1)
    Categories: MARC train
            

    July 20, 2009

    Transportation chief reins in audio surveillance idea

    By Michael Dresser

    Maryland’s acting transportation chief, citing concerns about privacy, has pulled back an internal proposal to use listening devices on its buses and trains for recording conversations of passengers and employees.

    The Maryland Transit Administration had been considering adopting a system that would allow it to conduct audio surveillance similar to that in several other large American cities.

    The idea was first reported late last week by the Maryland Politics Watch blog, which reported that the MTA’s top official had requested an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office on the legality of such surveillance.

    After inquiries from The Sun Monday, acting Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley ordered the request withdrawn.

     "It certainly should have been vetted at the department level and it was not," she said. "We have not weighed the issues we should weigh before making a decision like this."

    Swaim-Staley said she would review whether the state would move forward with such a program.

    "Any privacy matters are of the ultimate importance," said Swaim-Staley. "They’re the ultimate test of people’s trust in government."

     The request to the attorney general had sought legal guidance on whether using such equipment would violate Maryland’s anti-wiretapping law.

    Continue reading "Transportation chief reins in audio surveillance idea" »

    Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:39 PM | | Comments (1)
            

    MTA thinking of listening in? Never mind

    Update: Maryland Transportation Administration Acting Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley said Monday evening that she has withdrawn the following request to the attorney general for a legal opinion, saying the matter should have been reviewed at the department  level before the MTA sought legal advice.

    Swaim-Staley took the action after the following was reported here early Monday.

    The MTA is considering installing audio surveillance equipment on its buses and trains to record conversations of passengers and employees, according to a letter sent by the MTA's top official to the state Attorney General's Office.

    The letter, reported by the Maryland Politics Watch blog, seeks legal guidance on whether installing such equipment would violate Maryland's anti-wiretapping law. In his letter, MTA Administrator Paul J. Wiedefeld notes that the MTA already uses video cameras for security aboard its vehicles.

    "As part of MTA's ongoing efforts to deter criminal activity and mitigate other dangerous situations on board its vehicles, Agency management has considered adding audio recording equipment to the video recording technology now  in use throughout its fleet," Wiedefeld wrote.

    According to the administrator, the MTA staff decided the idea raised legal issues and decided to send a letter seeking an opinion from the attorney general on whether such electronic eavesdropping  would be legal and, if so, under which circumstances.

    Whether legal or not, the notion didn't play well with Paul Gordon, who broke the story on the Montgomery County-based blog.

    "Personally, I find the idea of the state recording people’s conversations on public transportation creepy, something I would expect from the old Soviet Union," Gordon wrote.

    I was reminded this weekend during a trip to Artscape on light rail that  one of the chief sources of amusement aboard public transit are the too-loud and uninhibited conversations of fellow passengers. It would be a shame if riders were cowed into silence by the fear that someone in authority was recording their descriptions of their wild weekends.

    Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:57 AM | | Comments (6)
            

    More MARC follies on the Penn Line

    Eric Luebehusen, a regular Penn Line  rider and a faithful correspondent on all matters MARC-related, provides  this account of the morning's Penn Line follies. The event two weeks ago was a fiasco in which one train ended up taking a journey of at least 3 1/2 hours between Baltimore and Washington.

    Thought I'd pass along my experience from this morning.  It was almost a carbon copy of the fiasco from 2 weeks ago, except this time I was on my regular train.

    Train #407 (6:30 Halethorpe) apparently broke down at Odenton this morning... this is the same train that broke down last time.

    Train #509 (6:38 Halethorpe) was instructed to couple with and push the disabled 407.  Last time, I managed to get on board this one.  Today, I missed it.

    Train #411 (7:13 Halethorpe) arrived to Halethorpe on time, and I got on.  We were held up for 20 minutes or so as the 2 trains in front of us sorted out what needed to be done.

    The net result for me, was only a 20-30 minute delay... while the trains in front were delayed a bit more (I think 50 minutes or so).  Not a good start to the week mind you - and certainly highlights the need for new equipment yesterday - but with a plan (and the right cables), no one was forced to arrive at work at lunchtime.

    Anyway... seems like they more or less got this one right.

    By the  way, the Maryland Transit Administration still classifies this morning's MARC operations as having "minor" disruptions. Jeff Quinton of insidecharmcity.com was kind enough to pass along a log of what "minor" means to the MTA. See it below:

    Continue reading "More MARC follies on the Penn Line" »

    Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:29 AM | | Comments (6)
    Categories: MARC train
            

    July 17, 2009

    More problems on MARC

    Jeff Quinton's Inside Charm City blog examines the gory details of MARC's mechanical problems on the Penn Line last night. Does "80 minutes late" feel any bettter than an hour, 20 minutes late?
    Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:50 AM | | Comments (0)
    Categories: MARC train
            

    July 16, 2009

    MARC blasted over engines that still can't

    The news that the Maryland Transit Administration has yet to deploy its new commuter train locomotives inspired veteran MARC rider Jeff Quinton to issue an impassioned rant on the Inside Charm City blog.

    Quinton's manifesto wraps up many of the complaints I've heard from MARC riders over the months. An example: "The customer service issues boil down to one thing that I’ve heard echoed by numerous customers (some of who work in transportation or know a lot about trains): everytime something goes wrong, MARC acts like it is the first time it has ever happened."

    That one sure sounds familiar.

     

    Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:15 AM | | Comments (0)
    Categories: MARC train
            

    July 10, 2009

    Answers for sore knees at Halethorpe MARC

    halethorpe.jpg

    Sun photo/Amy