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 system...is 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.