Friday, December 17, 2010

Response to comment on station notifications

A recent commenter asked:

How come the MARC train stations don't even have basic systems to alert riders and others to the status of trains? People are siting at the stations waiting for riders to arrive and have NO status of the trains? There are audio systems in the stations that used to be used to give status and are no longer used? A simple suggestion: put monitors in each station, hooked to Internet and have the control center update the status as each train proceeds through the difficult can this be?

The answer is that MARC is in the process of solving this problem to a degree. With the help of stimulus funds, MARC plans to replace public address systems with LED sings at all of their stations save the ones run by Amtrak (Washington, New Carrollton, BWI, Baltimore, Aberdeen). The existing system is in need of replacement as it's 20 years old. As replacement parts are hard to come by keeping the old PA system operational is a struggle. The replacements will hit Brunswick first and then Camden and finally Penn, as the Penn line system is in the best shape of the three.

The new system will be linked to the MARC Tracker that alerts riders via text or email about delays. It will provide real time status updates, i.e. "Train 419 to Washington arriving in 3 minutes" much like the current system used by DC Metro subway stations. MARC staff will continue to update passengers about delays, so the system will not rely entirely on automation.

Monday, October 25, 2010

MARC-related Halloween costume revealed

That's right, my fiance and I are dressing up as Baltimore's most controversial public art for Halloween this year: Penn Station's Male/Female.

I've already purchased little LED lights to stick to our chests and purply-blue foil to wrap around them. Searching for silver spandex and possible silver paint/hairspray to complete the costume. Supply source suggestions are welcome.

This will be the second year in a row that we've dressed up as iconic images from nearby Penn Station. Last year we were a hit as the Natty Boh guy proposing to the Utz girl from the Smyth jewelers billboard.

Signal sabotage?

The chatter on two blogs, Inside Charm City and Getting There, is that morning delays on Amtrak and MARC between DC and Baltimore were due to signal problems and - dun dun dun - possible sabotage.

Russian spies strike again?

Amtrak won't confirm sabotage, but also won't rule it out according to Dresser at Getting There. After some sleuthing Quinton at Charm City got a reply via Twitter from MTA saying that "malicious destruction" had affected the signals.

Then again Dresser's reporting found that the delays could be the fault of copper wires, which are the cause of some of the summer time delays.

Anyone else out there see signs of sabotage or have theories about the delay? Drop me a line.

Monday, September 27, 2010

MARC's 2010 holiday schedule - full service during winter holidays

A MARC official has released the 2010 holiday schedule to Stuck on MARC. A few details are still being worked out so check back for future updates. For now, here are the dates that you'll need to find alternate transportation if you have to work on the holidays:

Monday, October 11: Columbus Day--No service

Thursday, November 11: Veterans Day--S (snow) schedule.

Thursday and Friday, November 25-26: Thanksgiving and the day after--no service

Friday, December 24 and Friday, December 31 (Christmas and New Years observed, they fall on a Saturday this year)--no service

***During the week between Christmas and New Year, in response to commuter requests and improving state budget situation, MARC plans to operate full service.

This last schedule adjustment is great news for anyone who works past 7:30pm as the 7:40pm Penn Line was the last to leave Union Station during that week.

Visit MTA's Web site for more special schedule information.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

MARC delays minimal despite suicide attempt

The 'police activity' referenced in the below email notice from MARC was in response to an attempted suicide off the top of the Amtrak parking lot and onto the rails. The jumper was talked down with the promise of a smoothie, a MARC official tells me. Despite the incident- and resulting closure of tracks- the system only suffered delays stretching into the 25-minute range.

"BRNSWK: MARC 891 is canceled following a police activity in Washington/Union station. Passengers should transfer to MARC 875. Washington Metro will honor all MARC tickets."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

MARC/Amtrak could learn a thing or two from the Japanese

I was just reading a speech given by the Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. He was talking about the need for the US to invest in high speed rail.

Noting that there are 6 Es of Japanese high speed rail service, "the second E, E for exactness. Average delay time per year is less than one minute."

Average delay per year is less than one minute! Can you imagine?

He then goes on to say that this Amtrak train from New York was recently canceled and jokes that he hopes his friends at Amtrak aren't listening to C-SPAN.

Read the full speech here.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

WaPost on Ehrlich courting disgruntled MARC riders

The Washington Post has a good article and video detailing former MD Gov (and current gubernatorial candidate) Robert Ehrlich's efforts to court disgruntled MARC riders following last month's train from hell.

I'd have to dispute one point made by the head of the new group Commuters for Ehrlich, who in the video says that there's no griping forum for MARC passengers. There's a regular, maybe monthly or bimonthly "Meet the MARC Managers" event where riders can approach MTA officials and complain or ask questions. They do a good job of rotating the managers to different stations so all riders get a fair shake.

My question for Ehrlich is whether or not he will pledge to do something politically unpalatable if he's elected governor, that is raise train ticket prices.

MARC Riders Advisory Council chair Rafi Guroian told Stuck on MARC in an interview lats year that more revenue is essential for MARC's growth and improvement.

$175 for a monthly unlimited ticket is quite a bargain; I for one would be willing to pay $25 to get to work and home on time.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

WaPost article details nightmarish incident on MARC

The Metro section of today's Washington Post has a long article detailing the MARC train that stalled outside Union Station Monday night, leaving 900 passengers stranded and struggling for relief amid sweltering temperatures for two hours.

This isn't the first time MARC commuters have been stuck in a heat box for hours. Below is an email last year, June 9, about a very similar incident, which also forced riders to resort to drastic measures - removing windows using emergency handles - to get relief.

MTA officials have apologized, Amtrak has promised "corrective actions," and an investigation is ongoing, according to the Post.

The Post article quotes Gov. O'Malley calling the incident "utterly unacceptable," we'll be watching to see what follow up action he takes to assure it doesn't happen again, for the third summer in a row.

To Our Penn Line Passengers:

We sincerely apologize for yesterday’s mechanical breakdown on train 530 near the Seabrook station. As those of you on the train know all too well, train 530 became disabled shortly after departing New Carrollton. Not only was the train unable to move, but the train lost all lighting and air conditioning. As soon as the problem with Train 530 was reported, Amtrak sent a mechanical technician out on the next train to attempt to repair the train. The locomotive involved has been removed from service pending a thorough investigation and repairs.

The MTA contracts with Amtrak to operate the Penn Line MARC trains. The MARC operations center was notified of Train 530’s problems by Amtrak just before 5:00pm. We sent a text and email message out to all Penn Line riders at 5:01pm, with updates following.

We understand that the temperature and conditions on board train 530 quickly became unbearable. Many of you expressed frustration that several MARC trains passed train 530 without stopping. The challenge of rush hour operations is that these trains themselves are already filled to capacity themselves and cannot take on additional passengers. While the train stopped agonizingly short of the platform at Seabrook, it is not possible to unload passengers at a location that is not a station stop.

When it became clear that train 530 was not going to be able to move for a significant period of time, trains 439 and 440 were cancelled and its equipment sent non-stop from Baltimore to Seabrook to transfer passengers. While 439 was en route, the technician was able to get 530’s locomotive working, lights and air conditioning restored, and the train departed Seabrook. MARC then “uncancelledd” train 440, the 6:40pm departure from Washington.

Today, MARC management has been reviewing this incident with Amtrak. One of our primary concerns is, based upon on your e-mails to us, that the train crew did not provide updates to passengers. This is unacceptable and we have told Amtrak that we expect their employees to provide regular updates to our passengers, even when there is no new information to report. MARC’s mechanical department will also be meeting with Amtrak mechanical personnel to determine what went wrong with the locomotive.

While yesterday’s incident was, to say the least, frustrating and the temperature uncomfortable, we do need to ask one thing of our passengers. Please do not ever remove windows from a train, unless directed by a member of the train crew. Doing this makes an already difficult situation worse—once windows are removed, a train cannot proceed until the car(s) in which the windows have been removed are unoccupied and even then the train can only proceed at a significantly reduced speed. It is also extremely dangerous to exit a train through the emergency windows. In addition to the potential injury you may incur falling from the train, trains pass on parallel tracks at speeds of up to 135 miles per hour. These trains approach very quickly and quietly. Again, while we understand the conditions on board train 530, removal of windows and exiting the train is extremely dangerous and should never be done unless directed by a uniformed Amtrak/MARC employee.

We appreciate your understanding of this matter.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Ladies! Meet a man on MARC

Until a fellow commuter asked me out on a date while we were walking from the MARC train into Union Station this morning, it never occurred to me that the MARC is the perfect place to scope out single men.

First off the dating pool is selective, these men have jobs ladies, and probably steady ones if they work for the federal government.

Secondly you have a number of things in common such as the fact that you both take public transportation and most likely live close to one another.

Finally, since you probably see this person most weekdays you can scope out their habits- is he an annoyingly loud cell phone talker? does he snore when cat napping- before deciding whether or not you'd want to date him.

So ladies, give that bespectacled gentleman with the nice leather briefcase who always rides in the first row of the third car a second look. With our daily commutes cutting into our social lives, the MARC just might be your ticket to finding a man.

P.S. I had struck up a conversation with the man who asked me out last week before he asked me out this morning. He was friendly, interesting and intelligent, and easy on the eyes. I declined his invitation as I'm madly in love with my wonderful boyfriend, but I thought I'd share this experience for all the single ladies out there.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Sun's Dresser previews MARC's "cruelest months"

The Baltimore Sun's transportation reporter, Michael Dresser, has a feature in today's newspaper [presumably since it was published online last night] about what MARC riders can expect from the beleaguered commuter rail this summer.

High temps during the summer months usually mean delays due to speed restrictions on the rail and Dresser quotes on commuter predicting the worst: "It's going to be a long, hot summer."

But Dresser also quotes a MARC official predicting that new diesel engines and repaired AEM-7 engines should alleviate some of the past problems that MARC riders had to contend with during the summer.

Dresser also dips into what could become a political battle in the race for governor, noting that former MD Gov. Ehrlich Jr. has criticized current Gov. O'Malley for scrimping on funds to the MARC system, even though a closer look at spending proves otherwise.

Transit advocate Rafi Guroian settles the dispute, "Neither is a hero to MARC," Dresser quotes him as saying.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ask a MARC Operator/Conductor?

A friend emailed me a link to this really cool feature that The New York Times is running this week.

NYT readers are invited to post their questions about New York City's transit system to Dennis H. Boyd, a train operator aboard the No. 4 Lexington Ave. subway line. The Times will publish the first set of Boyd's responses this Wednesday.

Any interest out there among MARC commuters for a similar feature at Stuck on MARC? My first inclination would be to get one of the more friendly and knowledgeable MARC conductors, such as Mike of the Penn Line's #415, to field questions.

It would be a chance for riders to learn more about the conductors they see on a regular basis and for the conductors, in turn, to impart some of their wisdom to us.

Let me know your thoughts.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

School groups on MARC

Last week I received an email from a MARC commuter concerned about how the system handles school groups aboard the trains. Specifically she was pleased to received advance notice on May 13 that a group would be aboard train #513 the next morning.

She was not pleased that the students were given the first two cars for the following reasons:
- When the group disembarks the students clog the platform awaiting instructions from teachers
- Daily commuters should get priority boarding for the first two cars since they're the closest to the station upon arrival. Why are consistent commuters being penalized for their loyalty over occasional riders?
- If students need to be close to the bathroom (reason given by conductor to commuter for why students had to ride at the front of the train) why not add another bathroom car?

I brought the commuter's above concerns to Rafi Guroian, chair of MRAC (MARC Riders' Advisory Council). Rafi had received similar complaints from other riders and had already brought the issue up with the MTA.

Rafi providing the following explanation for the May 14 incident with the school group (I've edited his full response for brevity).

1. The group boarded at Perryville, whose switch track only allows boarding at the southern end of the train.
2. MTA had attempted to get the train crew to instruct the school supervisors to keep their charges on the train until everyone else disembarked. Alas the ball was dropped somewhere along the way on that one. (I'm sure any teachers/parents in audience are sympathetic here).
3. MTA conceded that they'd overbooked school groups, promising to split groups over multiple trains in the future.

Also, Rafi noted his genuine concerns about reports that both teachers and students were yelled at and cursed at by commuters. "We take trains instead of driving to relax, presumably, and there's no call for vulgarity amongst each other-- adults, most of us-- God forbid children," Rafi wrote.

In closing Rafi noted that the school group incident is emblematic of a larger problem MARC is facing: adequately handling increased ridership. "I believe what happened Friday is a small preview of things to come," Rafi warned.

Rafi detailed the severe capacity constraints that the MARC system and Union Station in particular are facing: no hard, funded plans for new equipment in the near future, no space to put new cars even if we procured them, no money to alleviate space issues at Union Station.

Compared to similar metro areas around the U.S., DC-Baltimore "looks like a skeleton with no meat," says Rafi. He continues that the State of Maryland, specifically the lawmakers that hold the purse and policy strings in Annapolis, need to wake up and "Do something to really plan for the future of our transit systems in MD."

Rafi concluded by conceding that MTA/MARC folks probably could have handled Friday's school group more smoothly, but he argued that the system is operating with very limited equipment, stations and funding. "They're stretching a rubber band just about as far as it'll go," he wrote.

Help Rafi bring more attention to transit needs by contacting your state elected officials. Look them up and find their contact info here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Java Moon Cafe promises review of policy

I will be suspending my boycott of Java Moon Cafe. (See yesterday's post.)

I wrote to the Java Moon parent company after I was refused coffee in my travel mug at the cafe in Penn Station yesterday. The refusal upset me because many companies like The Daily Grind in Baltimore and Caribou Coffee in D.C. encourage customers to use their travel mugs and cut down on waste by offering discounts.

In response to my complaints, I received an emailed apology from a company BP, promising a closer review of the policy, which does not allow customers to use travel mugs for fear that they might be sued if dirty mugs are filled with their coffee. I was pleasantly surprised by the speedy reply, less than 24 hours after I filed my complaint.

The VP graciously offered five days of free coffee in my travel mug and a discount on pastries, for taking time to tell her about my experience. I will decline the offer so as to remain somewhat neutral, but I appreciate the spirit.

I look forward to hearing the outcome of the company's review to see whether it results in a change in policy, posting of a sign explaining the policy or other consideration.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Penn Station's Java Moon Cafe enforces regressive rule

What a way to start a Monday.

I stood in line for over five minutes at the new Java Moon Cafe in Penn Station, Baltimore this morning to get a cup of coffee.

When I handed over my plastic travel mug, the cashier shot me a look and said, 'We won't use your cup. We will only give you coffee in our own cups.'

After asking why not the cashier refused to give me an explanation.

"That seems like a waste," I said.

Then I left and went to get coffee at Dunkin Donuts instead. As I waited in line the manager from Java Moon walked by. I told her that if they were going to enforce such a ridiculous, regressive policy they should at least post a sign informing customers.

The manager just kept repeating "It's a company rule," when I asked her why the rule existed. Finally she motioned for me to step out of the line and she would whisper the reason for the rule.

I told her in front of the crowd that if the company was going to enforce such a rule it shouldn't be a secret and the public had a right to know the reasons behind the rule.

Finally she told me the rule was to prevent customers from using dirty travel mugs and then suing the company for putting their coffee in the dirty mugs. She was not amused when I asked her to smell my mug and tell me if it was dirty or not.

At first she countered that the company, Java Moon Cafe, is a franchise. I told her that I would write to the company to complain because a) the lawsuit excuse is ridiculous b) the policy is regressive when many other companies promote good environmental practices by giving customers who use their own cups a discount c) not using their cups saves the company money d) for MARC commuters who travel with coffee there's no place to put a cup, so you have to wedge it between the seats which only works with a hard travel mug and not a flimsy paper cup.

I will be writing to Java Moon to complain - you can do the same, click here. Let their Facebook friends know about the nonsensical policy by posting on their wall.

In the meantime I'm boycotting Java Moon. I'd also like to find out of the public has any input into who gets concessions at Penn Stations. If you have any information about this please let me know.

That's all for my Monday morning rant.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Police enforce MARC boarding

Two police officers stood guard on the platform outside Union Station during tonight's rush hour, presumably to prevent crowding on the platform. I wonder if a specific incident caused their presence or if it's a more general effort to prevent the choas that occassionally occurs at this hour. It could also be because the 6:40pm Penn Line is delayed.

I think it would be helpful if MARC could post the length of the delay so that those of us who have the option to do so can choose to take the Camden Line instead, which departs three minutes after the closest Penn Line departure at 6:43pm.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A little commuting perspective from Mumbai

"At least your commute isn't as bad as this," wrote a friend in an email with this link from CNN's Mumbai editor, Sita Wadhwani.

The video shows a crush of female commuters, talking loudly, hanging on to metal handles in what looks more like a cage than a train. Ms. Wadhwani translated some of the shouting as "WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING?"

She quipped that the government's official term for rush hour commutes is "superdense crush load."

A global perspective helps when we're complaining about the new MARC seats and the violators of the quiet car rules...

Thursday, April 29, 2010

MARC Trainmaster never has a typical day

Though some sympathetic commuters might expect that Dave Johnson, who supervises the Penn and Camden Lines on MARC, frequently has what Alexander of the famous children's book calls a 'Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,' that's not the case.

"There really is no one typical day," Johnson told Stuck on MARC, on the Union Station platform last week.

He usually tries to be in D.C. during the afternoon rush hours when Penn Line trains average 900 to 1,500 passengers per trip. Other times Johnson's driving a state vehicle around Maryland meeting local officials, refilling ticket machines, checking station cleanliness, riding trains himself, or covering the operations center where service announcements originate. He's on call until Penn Line's #446, which leaves D.C. at 10:30pm arrives safely at its destination at Baltimore's Penn Station at 11:27pm, give or take a few.

I usually go home at the end of the day exhausted, Johnson said.

Previous to joining MARC about a year ago, Johnson haunted the halls of Congress as a self-described "Hill policy nerd," advocating for improved public transportation. You could also call Johnson a train nerd: he was a charter representative to the Amtrak Customer Advisory Committee in college and he spent a recent weekend giving a presentation to the National Association of Railroad passengers.

Without a passion for public transport, Johnson said the frustrations of his job would outweigh the benefits.

Recent crowd control problems at Union Station have sparked outcries on local blogs.

Impatience and a mob mentality reign among many MARC commuters during rush hour. I've provided a commuter's perspective time and again on this blog, so it's only fair that I allow Johnson to offer his side in this post.

"We don't get any thrill out of this," Johnson said, referring to the attempts by MARC officials to keep riders off the platforms before their train arrives. "It's about avoiding a chaotic situation," he said, noting a recent incident where 2,000 commuters crowded the platform waiting for a Penn Line train causing 60 Camden Line riders to miss their train.

Johnson added that one of the reasons for keeping riders inside the station and off the platform is to keep them more comfortable (air conditioning, no diesel fumes) and well informed (PA system, notification boards).

The commuter rage, not unlike road rage though less lethal as we don't have our own vehicles to leverage, occasionally boils over during rush hour. Johnson recalled a recent incident.

Commuters were awaiting the 6:40pm Penn Line departure from Union Station. A Girl Scout troop had tickets to board the train and Johnson escorted them to the front of the line so they could board as a group.

"Fuck the Girl Scouts," one irritated commuter yelled.

This level of anger clearly upsets Johnson.

Something that angers commuters, myself included, is when MARC won't wait a few minutes to accommodate Metro riders who are running late due to subway delays.

Johnson explained that because MARC doesn't own the rails-- CSX owns the Camden Line tracks and Amtrak owns the Penn tracks-- the state commuter rail has to defer to its overlords.

For example, if Johnson were to hold a Penn train just 5 minutes in some occasions it would conflict with a passing Amtrak Acela express train, forcing an eventual 20 minute delay.

Johnson addressed two more areas of common complaint: the new, less roomy seats on the Penn Line and the cleanliness of MARC trains.

Seats: "We know the seats stink," Johnson admitted, but, he said that the wait for new seats is 2-3 years, versus the 9 months MARC had to wait to acquire these from VRE (Virginia Railway Express, MARC's Virginia cousin). The VRE seats will be swapped out when the cars undergo a midlife overhaul in a few years.

Cleanliness: When I asked Johnson about the difference in cleanliness between Amtrak trains and Penn Line trains after learning that Amtrak overseas cleaning on both trains, he acknowledged the problem. He promised to look into the issue and see how cleanliness on the Penn Line could be improved.

As a daily Penn Line commuter and author of Stuck on MARC, I really appreciated the time that Johnson took to talk to me and answer my questions.

Here are a few more nuggets of interest from our interview:
  • In 2009 the Penn Line broke the 20,000 daily ridership mark for the first time.
  • 2009 total MARC system daily ridership (Penn, Brunswick, Camden lines) was 32,455. That's a 6,000 person increase from 2004.
  • A weekend schedule for MARC was on the way to the printer two years ago, but was nixed with the economic collapse.
  • CSX is getting out of the business of running passenger trains (their primary business is shipping), which means that the state is looking for a new third party contractor to run the Camden Line. The Camden contract will be the biggest contract ever let by the state of Maryland in terms of scope and cost, said Johnson. The contract will be awarded soon (original target was the end of April). Johnson said the change will mean improved service as it will give MARC more oversight, redress and streamline the system.***

***Clarification: The new CSX contract is for both Camden and Brunswick lines (not just Camden as I mentioned above). Johnson tells me that the contract "also includes facilities maintenance (taking care of all the MARC-owned stations), material inventory/control (e.g. train car windows, brake stands, light bulbs, etc, etc, in other words, anything needed to make a train car or locomotive run) and diesel locomotive maintenance."

Monday, April 12, 2010

Amtrak delays MARC

Feeling like the ugly stepchild as my 7:40am train from Baltimore to DC has been sitting just outside of Odenton station for about 20 minutes as Amtrak trains pass us headed north. The conductor explained that Amtrak has been playing catch up from an earlier incident with a disabled train, of course at MARC's expense.

I hate starting off my weekday with MARC delays.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

MARC chaos at Union Station

Commuters rush for a spot on the MARC train #538 (611pm departure from DC), which was delayed due to a mechanical problem. Anxious commuters were held back off the platform by uniformed police (Amtrak I think) and a MARC official tried to keep people orderly with the help of a blow horn.

Needless to say my meeting with the MARC and Amtrak officials about the very subject on display during tonight's rush hour- crowd control- has been postponned so they can focus on their jobs tonight.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


------Original Message------
From: Maryland Transit Administration
Subject: MTA: Penn: MARC 440 is operating approx 45 minutes late in the Bowie area.
Sent: Mar 31, 2010 7:56 PM

Penn: MARC 440 is operating approx 45 minutes late in the Bowie area.

March 31, 2010 7:53 PM

Seabrook situation resolved

The disabled train is finally moving North from Seabrook and we're following slowly behind. Conductor told me we should speed up once the train in front of us makes its first stop.

Still- still - no word from the MARC staff on how late our train is running, though MTA just sent out an email saying that the formerly disabled train is 70 minutes bedhind schedule. My bet is that we're running at least 40 minutes lates. (So much for trying to get a run in before the sun goes down).

As I walked to the bathroom I passed a MARC rider reaming out a conductor - accusing the system of not giving commuters any options (we could have disembarked at New Carrolton and found alternate transportation- valid point) and of treating customers like the opposite side in litigation, which is also sometimes true. To the conductor's credit she remained calm and politely listened to the disgrunteled rider.

More on disabled Seabrook train

Conductor just said that a passing train dropped off a technician who's now aboard the disabled train- which we're stuck behind- still no information on a timeframe for the delay or how it might be solved.

In good news I got my second highest score in the BlackBerry game 'Brickbreaker' a few minutes ago. (Ahhhh, the small pleasure of a stranded commuter's idle pursuits)

Penn Line's 640pm from DC assisting disabled train

I'm on the 6:40pm Penn Line departure from Union Station headed toward Baltimore and the conductor has just informed us that we're going to help a MARC train disabled in Seabrook get to Baltimore's Penn Station. No word in whether that means we're essentially pushing it there or how late that will make us.

Ughhh, now I really feel the pain of the Penn and Camden commuters who were delayed this morning due to mechanical problems.

Below is the note from MTA re: the disabled train.
------Original Message------
From: Maryland Transit Administration
Subject: MTA: MARC 538 stopped south of Seabrook due to mechanical with itslocomotive, approx 15 mins late.
Sent: Mar 31, 2010 6:43 PM

Penn: MARC 538 stopped south of Seabrook due to mechanical with its locomotive. Approximately 15 mins late at this time.

March 31, 2010 6:41 PM

I miss the clackety clack too...

Just saw Michael Dresser's post (The Sun's transportation reporter) on the disappearance of the departures and arrivals board at Baltimore's Penn Station.

Dresser informs us that the tiny digital screen that's replaced the large, old school mechanical signboard is only temporary until a new, larger digital board completes a trial run. Good thing because I always have to squint to see whether my train will be on time or not every morning.

Though Dresser notes that the new sign is in keeping with the times - "the flip-flapping signboards are going the way of the steam engine in rail stations around the world" - I'd argue that nostalgia is not the only reason to gripe about the disappearance of the mechanical board.

A number of blind commuters ride the MARC train, and I'd wager a guess that the clackety clack of the old signboard was helpful in alerting them that either a train had arrived or a departure time had been adjusted. Unfortunately the announcers are usually behind what the signboard, and as every MARC commuter knows you want to get a front and center space in line when the train arrives to assure a good seat on the train.

Amtrak saves the day for Penn commuter

I feel your pain Melissa, though fortuitously I stayed at a friend's place in DC last night instead of commuting back to Baltimore, and I have to say that my level of happiness skyrocketed for the day.

It's great that we have Amtrak as a backup to MARC, though paying three times ($7 one way Baltimore to DC on MARC versus $21 on Amtrak) the ticket price is always a tough pill to swallow.

Looks like the problems today spanned the Camden and Penn lines. As an added bonus the MARC Tracker service, which provides riders with updates about delays, was down. Once again the delays were related to mechanical problems.

I've got a longstanding date to sit down with MARC Trainmaster Dave Johnson, so I'll try to get some answers from him on this latest delay and post them here on Stuck on MARC.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Commuting most likely to dampen happiness, says Brooks

In his op/ed column in The New York Times David Brooks reports that "The daily activity most injurious to happiness is commuting."

No surprise there, I thought to myself while reading the column and looking outside the MARC train at a dreary Tuesday morning.

But don't get too glum my fellow MARC riders, Brooks also reports a fix to brighten up your workweek.

"The daily activities most associated with happiness are sex, socializing after work and having dinner with others. "

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Union Station signs detail new waiting policy

I snapped these two signs at Union Station tonight on my way to catch the Penn Line home. The whiteboard is in the hallway, which I mentioned in my previous blog on the issue of MARC's new waiting policy that's upset many riders. The second is on the platform itself. 

MRAC Chair Rafi Guroian responded to my question as to whether the MARC Riders Advisory Council has taken up the issue. His answer is very instructive, if not encouraging. 

Here's Rafi's note in response to my previous blog post.
Julia, we're well aware of the issue on the council, obviously (after all, we're in the rank and file with everyone else). We'll make sure to put it on the agenda again for the next meeting (it's becoming a regular feature, it seems). Sadly, the "end-all" answer is not cheap: a complete reconfiguration of the Metro corridor and Gate A and reinstating tracks 3-6 which were torn up when the Metro was built in the 70s. 

Rafi Guroian

Baltimore Blog addresses MARC snafu at Union Station

Jeff Quinton over at Inside Charm City has taken up the cause of the new crowd control regulations for MARC riders at Union Station. An issue I blogged about last month.

Quinton, who's recently rejoined our ranks as a daily MARC commuter, was peeved about a new policy, outlined on a whiteboard at the station, that requires Penn Line passengers to board through proper gates inside Union Station, much like our Amtrak counterparts do.

The new policy was to prevent people from crowding in the hallway that connects an exit from the Metro to the platform. Like Quinton and other MARC riders who also use Metro I think it's easiest to simply take the escalators up from the subway then walk through the hallway and out onto the platform, waiting on the platform or in the hallway if the train is delayed. I understand the policy because on the seldom occasions when I was taking the Camden Line, which experiences fewer delays than Penn, it would be difficult to fight my way through the Penn Line crowd to make my train.

My problem with the new policy, as I mentioned on this blog, was that MARC still has communication issues with its passengers that cause them anxiety and subsequently a desire to be on the platform to see the situation for themselves. Often times the schedule boards in Union Station do not reflect the situation on the ground for MARC trains, which experience frequent delays.

I have to disagree with Quinton on his characterization of MARC employee Dave Johnson, who in my experience as a daily commuter for the past two years, has been one of the most dedicated public employees I've ever met. Evidenced here and here for example. You have to have sympathy for a guy who deals with an unhappy, impatient public on a day to day basis, in a job where much of what he's trying to manage is out of his direct control.

I give Quinton kudos for reaching out to the DC Fire Marshall about his concerns over fire and evacuation hazards, which are surely a problem with both the old and new waiting policies.

Quinton got a response from DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services Deputy Chief Bruce Faust regarding the situation.

Here the response, read Quinton's full post here.

I am aware of this on-going issue with MARC and the management of the Union Station terminal. We are working together to develop a reasonable solution that meets the needs of all interested parties. I hope to have
some resolution in the near future.

If you do not see improvements, please let me know.

Seems like there's more coordination that needs to happen between MTA, Union Station, MARC commuters and DC Fire Marshall. I wonder if Rafi Guroian, chair of the MARC Riders Advisory Council (MRAC) has formally taken up this issue. If you're interested in making your voice heard through the council attend the next meeting on Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 4:30 p.m. Check for the location, usually Union or Penn Station, here closer to the date.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

We'll wait outside if you give us up-to-date info

Here's my problem with this notice from MARC about new boarding procedures at Union Station. The gist of the new rules is that "passengers will no longer be permitted to wait for trains before they are posted for boarding in the area outside of Gates A, B, and C or out on the platforms." One of the major reasons that passengers crowd near doorways and spill out into the platform is due to lack of information from MARC on the ground.

Unlike Amtrak, MARC does not post estimated delay times on the boards at Union Station. That leaves passengers like myself who have a short time span in which to decide whether to take either the Penn or the Camden Line home to Baltimore (for instance Penn leaves at 6:40pm and Camden at 6:43pm). If I have to wait around for more than 10 minutes for the Penn, I'll take the Camden, but there's no way for me to find this information out without walking out on to the platform to talk to personnel or to look for an incoming Penn Line train.

The notice mentions that MTA is undergoing "A more long-term effort to study and recommend ways to re-configure Union Station to better reflect Amtrak and MARC’s needs in the 21st century." That's great, I won't hold my breath. But it makes no mention of helping ease the concern of commuters waiting for delayed trains, who often crowd out on to the platform in hopes of finding out information about just how late they'll arrive home that night.

Read the full notice:
A message to MARC Passengers that travel from Washington Union Station--

Amtrak and MARC management have been working over the past several weeks to improve passenger flow at Union Station. After careful consideration and examination of many alternatives, the following procedures are now in effect for boarding MARC trains during the afternoon rush hour at Union Station:

Camden and Brunswick Line trains will board through Gate A.

Penn Line trains will board through Gate B and/or C.

In both cases, these boarding gates will be the standard procedure, unless otherwise noted on the station train status monitors and the MARC Train information display board. Passengers are encouraged to check the board/monitors each day not only for their numeric track assignment but their lettered boarding gate; they will be required to board their train through the assigned gate.

We understand that these new procedures may add a minute or two in the process of boarding your train and appreciate your understanding. A more long-term effort to study and recommend ways to re-configure Union Station to better reflect Amtrak and MARC’s needs in the 21st century is underway.

In addition to the boarding gate changes, the following measures will be implemented to ensure passenger safety and security. Passengers will no longer be permitted to wait for trains before they are posted for boarding in the area outside of Gates A, B, and C or out on the platforms. Passengers may only proceed to their train when the train is posted for boarding on the station train status monitors and/or announced by an Amtrak employee. MARC passengers found waiting in either of these areas will be directed to return to the station by Amtrak station staff, Amtrak or CSX conductors, and MARC staff. Amtrak Police will be assisting in this effort as well. Again, these changes will ensure passenger safety and security at Union Station and allow Amtrak and MARC staff to better manage crowd control in the event of a service disruption.

Thank you for riding MARC Train Service.

February 2, 2010 12:19 PM

Monday, February 1, 2010

Stuck on MARC interviewed on stimulus $ for high speed rail

A Capitol News Service reporter called Stuck on MARC on Friday to get feedback on whether or not Maryland commuter rail was short-changed in the President's announcement of $8 billion of stimulus funds for high speed rail across the country. You can find the full story here and here.

Here's the section of the story that focused on our conversation:

Meanwhile, thousands of Maryland commuters like Julia Marsh of Baltimore continue to hope for better service on Amtrak and MARC trains.

Marsh, who has ridden the MARC Penn Line from Baltimore's Penn Station to Washington's Union Station every day for almost two years, questioned the impact of the proposed high-speed rail investments on middle-class commuters.

"Why are the president and vice president really making this push for high-speed rail when the commuter rail in such horrible shape?" she asked, adding, "It's really going to take a major investment, and throwing a little bit of money at the problem isn't going to do much."

MARC Riders Advisory Council Chairman Rafael Guroian said, "Speaking as a commuter, I wish that the grant would have been higher; however, even $8 billion wouldn't have been enough for what they need to do in our area.
At first I indicated on the blog that I was pleased to see that Baltimore would directly benefit from $112 million in improvements to the Northeast Corridor, specifically from Boston to New York and Washington DC. In conversations with MRAC Chair Rafi Guroian I learned that MARC could get a piggyback benefit from updates to Amtrak rails, which the state commuter system also uses. Rafi also warned that the piggyback effect would take a substantial sum of money to make a difference.

After speaking with a veteran Amtrak conductor I learned that throwing money at studies and 10-year plans rarely result in actual improved infrastructure in the near or intermediate term.

I also realized that we got barely a drop in the proverbial bucket.

Indeed the Capitol News Service reporter quotes Congressman John Mica of Florida calling Maryland's allotment of the funds "peanuts" and "an insult." Indeed the $70 million that will go directly to Maryland's railways is meager compared to $2.2 billion for California and $1.2 billion for Florida.

Here's to hoping that those studies lead to actual enhancement of the MARC system, preferably in the form of decreased delays.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Listen Now to Obama's announcement of $8b for high speed rail

Listen to a live audio feed from the White House Web site on this topic.

CBS News has a live video.

MARC to benefit from $8b in improvements to high speed rail

Yesterday I speculated as to whether or not the MARC system would benefit from $8 billion in stimulus funds that will go toward high speed rail across the country, which an AP article reported would be announced by the President and the Vice President today.

Today's press release from the White House emailed to reporters ahead of President Obama and Vice President Biden's arrival in Florida-- where they'll announce the grant recipients-- reveals that indeed Baltimore will directly benefit from $112 million in improvements to the Northeast Corridor, specifically from Boston to New York and Washington DC. (For a broader perspective of funds going to the entire Northeast corridor, check out this Dept. of Transportation/Recovery Act PDF).

A chart of the grants released by the White House specifically says $112 million will go toward "major, long-needed projects such as the completion of engineering and environmental work for a new tunnel in Baltimore and a new station at BWI Airport." It adds that "projects will span Rhode Island, New Jersey, Maryland and Washington, D.C."

The President and VP are also touting the infrastructure improvements as a much-needed job measure, but what Stuck on MARC cares most about is helping people get to their jobs, or to job interviews on time!

For a local perspective I asked MRAC (MARC Riders Advisory Council) chair Rafi Guroian yesterday to tell Stuck on MARC readers what the improvements will mean for area commuters. He wrote me last night before the details of the plan were announced, but I think his comments are still instructive.

Here's what Rafi emailed Stuck on MARC yesterday (emphasis is mine as it relates to today's announced improvements).
Let's assume for a moment that Obama does, in fact, announce funding specifically for northeast corridor improvements between, say, Elkton, MD and New Carrolton, MD. The known speedbumps for rail traffic in this area are bridges, tunnels (specifically the tunnels into and out of Penn Station Baltimore), and bottlenecking of tracks. That will most likely be where the money will be put to use, primarily for Amtrak's benefit. MARC, however, happens to run on those same tracks and MARC trains are subject to those same speedbumps, so any improvements that are made to that infrastructure would not only allow Amtrak to run its trains at faster speeds and greater frequencies through those areas, but it would also allow MARC trains to do the same.

Keep in mind, we're not talking about running MARC trains faster than their top speed today. We're talking about running trains faster in areas where they currently have to run at restricted speeds. We're also talking about added flexibility to run trains at times we currently aren't able due to space constraints on the corridor. The MARC Penn Line is the fastest commuter line in North America (125 MPH when using electric engines and the bilevel cars); the cars aren't rated to go any faster than that without serious upgrades. So where we may see improvement is in areas like West Baltimore into Baltimore, for example, where trains are restricted to about 15-30 MPH, depending on traffic. We may also see service extended to Elkton, MD and Wilmington, DE earlier than anticipated as well; only time will tell.

If Obama announces any improvements to the track capacity and infrastructure from Washington south to Virginia, we could also see MARC service extended to places like L'Enfant Plaza, Crystal City, and Alexandria. All of these things I've mentioned are items on the Maryland MTA's "wish list" (see their 35 year plan). Making them a reality requires a lot of funding and interagency collaboration. If Obama's announcements focus on any of those areas of Maryland, then at least we're part of the way there with funding. It'll be up to Amtrak and the Maryland MTA to work together in making it a reality.
Now comes the hard part: holding Amtrak and Maryland MTA's feet to the fire to get the engineering and environmental work done in a timely matter so that actual construction can begin on the improvements.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

President to announce $8b boost to high speed rail

The Associated Press is reporting that President Obama will announce $8 billion in stimulus funds for the creation of high speed rail corridors tomorrow during a trip to Florida. He will also tout the project as a job creator/saver for tens of thousands of workers.

The President will be joined by VP Biden in Florida to announce the infrastructure project, which leads the AP to speculate that " a high-speed line connecting Orlando and Tampa is likely to receive funding."

The AP reports that the funds will go to 13 new projects and some smaller improvements to benefit 31 states. No word yet if Maryland is among those states, but I'd venture a guess that Amtrak's Northeast corridor will be a beneficiary of funds for improvement, which will at least indirectly improve travel for Maryland rail users.

In an interview last fall rail guru Rafi Guroian told Stuck on MARC that commuter systems like MARC would benefit from upgrades to high speed rail. Here's the exchange:
Q: When I was listening to Obama and Biden tout the high speed rail portion of stimulus money I wondered why they aren’t supporting commuter rails since it’s a very middle class initiative and enjoys increasing ridership.
A: You’ll have to ask them, but I can tell you that any money that goes to high speed rail is almost certainly going to benefit commuter rail that exists or may exist because it’s going to piggyback on that infrastructure. I think your money is better spent on inner city passenger rail improvements, because not only will you cover Amtrak services, but any commuter services that exist are going to be able to run at faster speed. If they don’t exist the environment may be created where they’re realistic where they weren’t before.

Q: So you’re optimistic about a potential piggyback?
A: Yeah. My worry is there’s not enough money. It’s like throwing a little piece of meat into a piranha tank and everybody wants it.
I'll send an email to Rafi today with a link to the story to get his take on how the announcement might affect the MARC system.

Monday, January 25, 2010

New diesel debuts on Penn, electric breakdown an "isolated incident"

Trainmaster Dave Johnson emailed Stuck on MARC earlier today to let us know that the new diesel locomotive is scheduled to debut on the following Penn Line trains this week:
  • 405 (Southbound from Penn Station at 5:52am)
  • 428 (Northbound from Union Station at 4:15pm)
  • 439 (Southbound from Penn Station at 5:25pm)
  • and 440 (Northbound from Union Station at 6:40pm)
If you ride any of those trains, let us know if you noticed a difference in your commute.

I asked Johnson for news on the rehabbed electric locomotive that broke down on the Penn Line last week, causing delays up to 90 minutes. He said it was an "isolated incident," which should stem fears of potential system-wide effects cited by Sun transportation reporter Michael Dresser in his recent blog post.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

MARC delays less worse than beltway traffic?

Then again when I remind myself of the pain and torture that is driving from Baltimore to DC and back every day of the week, I count myself lucky to be able to nap or read through MARC delays.

Here's a Tweet posted by Inside Charm City that got me thinking about my options:
insidecharmcity RT @MDSHA: N I-95 backed up to I-195. 695 Inner loop delayed back to I-95. Outer loop is backed up to Liberty Road. #baltraffic

Dresser reports on problem with rehabbed electric locomotive

The Sun's Dresser tracked down the problem that caused delays of up to 90 minutes on this morning's commute for Penn Line passengers.

On his blog "Getting There" he reports:

"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."
Dresser quoted an MTA spokeswoman who said the exact cause of the breakdown was yet to be determined, which may account for the fact that emails notifying passengers of this morning's delays lacked any explanations.

The faulty locomotive is back in Amtrak's Washington yard, according to Dresser. For the sake of us commuters whose bosses disapprove of their employees regularly trickling into work 30 minutes late, Dresser warns: "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."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

3 down, 23 to go: update on new diesel locomotives

MARC Trainmaster Dave Johnson sent Stuck on MARC an update on the system's new diesel locomotives, which we first blogged about here.

Johnson reports that one (#12) of the two new diesel locomotives that are currently on the tracks "is now running solo on Brunswick trains 872 and 873 and Penn Line trains 410 and 429.

Johnson was aboard Penn Line train 429 yesterday and "the engine performed very well," during his trip he said.

The second diesel, #11 got was put into operation on Tuesday afternoon. Johnson said that #11 is operating on four Camden Line trains: 843, 842, 853, and 850. This second locomotive still has it's training wheels on - in the form of an older diesel - "but will go solo next week on the same trains," Johnson said.

The third diesel, #10 should be out on the road in the next week or so, according to Johnson.

MARC riders, let's keep our fingers crossed that the three new engines run smoothly so that MARC can begin to accept delivery from the manufacturer of the remaining 23 engines. The ultimate hope from a rider's perspective is that the updates will mean less delays and quicker travel time.

Friday, January 8, 2010

First new diesel locomotive undergoes testing on Camden, Penn lines

Trainmaster Dave Johnson sent Stuck on MARC this photo he took of a new MARC diesel locomotive on its second day of service last week.

Johnson explained that initially the new locomotive ran with a tried and true engine for protection. Yesterday the new diesel shed its training wheels and "made its first solo trip on Camden Line trains 843, 842, 853, and 850," reported Johnson, adding "The engine performed well with no significant problems."

The engine will continue to run on the Camden line for another three weeks, according to Johnson. Next week it will make mid-day trips on the Penn Line. If all the initial testing goes according to plan "we will accept delivery from the manufacturer and get all of the locomotives into service," Johnson said.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Biden endorses a bright future for Amtrak

Support for Amtrak must be strong--not because it is a cherished American institution, which it is--but because it is a powerful and indispensable way to carry us all into a leaner, cleaner, greener 21st century.

That's the main thrust of a recent article penned by Vice President Joe Biden for the tenth anniversary of the Amtrak magazine "Arrive." The piece also recently ran in the Huffington Post.

You can find it here and here.

I highlight this article, not as a political endorsement of Vice President Biden, but because I (and I expect many of my fellow MARC riders) share some of his sentiments and habits that he developed during the 7,000-plus trips he took between D.C. and Wilmington on Amtrak during his Senate career.

For example Biden talks about the family-like bond he had with conductor Gregg Weaver, who introduced the Vice President elect before he joined Obama for the Whistle Stop tour to the capitol. I share a similar relationship with a MARC Penn Line conductor named Mike who faithfully checks my monthly every morning and chides me on the days when I'm too lazy to bike to the station.

I've also learned from fellow commuters like Rafi Guroian that we all have our particular routines that help get us through the daily slog. For Rafi it's a quest to watch every single episode of the 'Star Trek' series. For me it's a combination of sleeping, playing BrickBreaker on my BlackBerry, and reading the news. Biden shares his routine in the article: reading the news, making phone calls, preparing for a hearing and editing opening statements.

I also wanted to give the piece a shout out because Biden highlights train history in our very own backyard:

In 1830, the first steam-engine locomotive, the Tom Thumb, graced America's railways. Its first run was a rickety 13-mile trek from Baltimore to Ellicott Mills, Md., but it became much more than that.

Finally I want to go back to a post I wrote this October that generated some controversy in the blogosphere (what that sphere is best at generating btw). I still find it pretty cool that one of the highest leaders in the land continues to take semi-public transportation instead of his own custom train a la Kim Jong Il (not trying to explicitly compare the two of course, but KJI luxury train travel is just too outrageous not to link to). Seems like the trend is catching on across the pond as well. Check out Queen Elizabeth's recent holiday trip aboard a- wait for it - commuter train!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The worst day in recent Penn Line history?

It's looking like tonight's commute home is going to be just as headachy as last night's. And I have plans to have dinner with a friend at Peter's Inn. Uggggggghhhhhhhhhhh.

Usually MARC can correct a few hitches without creating a complete dominoes effect of a system breakdown. I wonder what went wrong today. Today's problems seem to be the worst since I started riding MARC full time about two years ago.

Penn Line - Train 521 (901a DP PVL) is being delayed by police action in the Middle River area the amount of delay is unknown at this time. We will operat an OT train from BAL at 947a using extra equipment.... more to follow.
January 5, 2010 9:48 AM

Penn Line:Due to a trespasser strike involving an Amtrak train south of Martin Airport, scheduled train 521 will terminate at Martin Airport, passengers will be transfered to a bus that is en route. Other equipment has departed Baltimore as on time train 521. Updates will follow.
January 5, 2010 10:01 AM

Penn Line update #1 - Police action ongoing at Middle river. Train 521 from Perryville is holding at Martins Airport station. We are operating another train from Baltimore on 521 schedule that is currently ontime.
January 5, 2010 10:01 AM

Penn Line: Northbound train 414 having mechanical problems at New Carrollton, expecting 20-25 minute delay.
January 5, 2010 10:07 AM

Penn Line: Train 414 is operating 30 minutes late; expect train 423 to operate 30-35 minutes late
January 5, 2010 10:23 AM

Penn Line Update: Due to the severe delay of train 414 northbound to Baltimore train 423 southbound to Washington is canceled for today. The next southbound train will be train 425 expected to operate on time.
January 5, 2010 11:21 AM

Penn Line:Due to earlier delays and cancellations train 520 and 535 will both be canceled.Train 425 expected to depart Baltimore 30 to 35 minutes late due to Amtrak congestion in Baltimore. Update to follow.
January 5, 2010 11:58 AM

Penn Line Update
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.
Passengers for Martins Airport, Edgewood, Aberdeen, and Perryville should ride train 422 to Baltimore, where alternate transportation will be available to your station.
Stand by for updates on alternate arrangements for train 535.
January 5, 2010 12:44 PM

Train 429 is being delayed in Baltimore due to Amtrak congestion. Delay unknown at this time but will be at least 10 to 15 minutes. Updates to follow.
January 5, 2010 1:53 PM

Penn Line Update--
Train 433 (3:30pm departure from Baltimore) will hold at Baltimore Penn to operate on train 535's schedule. Train 433 will make all station stops today only.
For train 535's passengers from Perryville, Aberdeen, Edgewood, and Martins, Amtrak train #171 will stop to pick up MARC passengers. The following are ESTIMATED departure times for Amtrak train 171 at MARC stations:
Martins Airport-3:18pm
These are ESTIMATED times. Please arrive at your station at least fifteen minutes early to ensure that you make the train.
We regret the inconvenience of the disruptions this afternoon.
January 5, 2010 2:07 PM

Train 429 Update--Train is still in Baltimore Penn Station due to a late crew and Amtrak congestion. Train is now 30 minutes late with an additional 5 to 10 minutes of delay anticipated.
January 5, 2010 2:09 PM

Train 429 update--Train has departed Baltimore operating 30-35 minutes late, following two delayed Amtrak trains. An additional 5 to 10 minutes of delay can be anticipated en route.
January 5, 2010 2:13 PM

Penn: Marc 433 is operating approx 33 mins late in the Halethorpe area and is making all stops to cover for the cancelled Marc 535.
January 5, 2010 4:09 PM

Train 437 due to depart Baltimore 4:50 pm is being delayed due to mechanical problems. Currently train is 30 minutes late.
January 5, 2010 5:23 PM

Due to mechanical problems in Baltimore train 437 will operate express to Washington 45 minutes late. Expect train 538 out of Washington 6:05 pm is expected to be 15 minutes late.
January 5, 2010 5:39 PM

Marc train 439 5:25 pm is expected to operate 30 minutes late.
January 5, 2010 5:41 PM

Penn: Due to late arriving equipment, expect Marc 538 (605p WAS Dp) to depart WASH approx 15-20 mins late.
January 5, 2010 5:47 PM

Penn: Marc 440 (640p WAS Dp) expected to depart WASH approx 25-30 mins late due late equipment.
January 5, 2010 5:48 PM

Last night's Penn Line clogged in DC, MARC cited multiple reasons

My regular Penn train home last night - the 640pm departure was still sitting in Union Station at 653pm because the 534pm never left. At first MARC attributed the problem with the 534pm train to late equipment then it blamed an interference with an Acela train, finally it canceled the train citing mechanical problems.

An earlier train (446pm) was delayed by about 20 minutes because of speed restrictions and a following train (520pm) was operating two cars short.

The above problems explain why the 605pm left 35 minutes late at capacity and why my train was filled to the brim with standing room only. Though I'm still confused as to the real reason why the 534pm never left, or was it a combination of factors?

Here are the different explantions sent out by MARC:

Penn: Marc 436 (534p WAS Dp) has been cancelled due to mechanical problem with locomotive. Marc 538 will be departing WASH approximately 10 mins late.

Penn: Marc 436 (534p WAS Dp) will be departing WASH approx 30 mins late holding in terminal for a departing Amtrak Acela.

Penn: Marc 436 (534p WAS Dp) expected to depart WASH approx 20 mins late due to late equipment.

The problems continued throughout the night. The 725pm from Baltimore to Washington was also cut, with MARC citing shortage of equipment. Amtrak rescued passengers who were going to BWI, New Carrolton and D.C., but left stranded those who had planned to stop at Odenton until the next and last train left at 9:15pm.

Monday was a long day for many MARC commuters, who got home anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour late.

Monday, January 4, 2010

MARC official on last week's holiday schedule

State Trainmaster Dave Johnson emailed Stuck on MARC yesterday in response to last week's post expressing frustration about the limited holiday "S" schedule. This schedule cuts a handful of regular trains from its daily roster, which isn't so bad, but the difficult part for me was that the latest train leaves at 7:40p.m. with the "S" schedule, rather than 10:30p.m. with the regular schedule. That means I had to purchase a $20 Amtrak ticket to get home after working late, or crash at a friend's apartment in D.C.

Johnson explained that the "S" schedule runs between the federal holidays of Christmas and New Years because "demand is very light" that week, and the reduction is necessary "In light of the state's budget situation."

"We know that it inconveniences some people and do regret that," Johnson said.

I also griped about the fact that Amtrak does not honor MARC monthly pass holders on Northeast Regional trains that run after the last MARC at 7:40p.m. around the holidays. Johnson explained:

"As for putting MARC passengers on Amtrak 198 (8:40 train) or 66 (10:00 train), in the past we have asked for that and been denied by Amtrak."

He said that the next "S" schedule won't happen until Veterans Day, but vowed to revisit the issue with higher ups.