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.