Ehrlich pledges improved MARC service
Former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) is seeking to parlay the experience of riders on last month's "hell train" -- and complaints more generally about MARC commuter rail service -- into support for his comeback campaign.
Ehrlich invited the media to watch Thursday as he met in a Baltimore County cafe with one of the 900 passengers who were stranded on a sweltering Penn Line train for more than two hours on June 21.
The meeting, which was filmed by Ehrlich's campaign, follows the launch of a Commuters for Ehrlich group -- with an accompanying Facebook page -- and the posting on Ehrlich's Web site of a video detailing one passenger's frustrations with the MARC system.
"We will endeavor to do better," Ehrlich said at the conclusion of Thursday morning's meeting.
The O'Malley campaign contends that Ehrlich's effort is on track to go nowhere.
"If he wants to take this issue and politicize it, he does so at his own peril," said O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese, who forwarded along statistics showing significantly higher operating and capital spending on MARC service and increased ridership during the O'Malley administration compared to the Ehrlich administration. "If you compare the two administrations, there is no comparison."
Ehrlich lobbed questions and listened at a back table at the Captain's Cafe in Middle River as Linda King talked about delays that plague her daily commuting experience from a nearby station to northern Virginia and about getting stranded on the Penn Line with her 8-year-old daughter.
"After this particular incident, she became fearful," King said of her daughter, whom she said previously had loved riding the train.
"Did anyone appear to be in charge?" asked Al Redmer, a state Senate candidate from Baltimore County who joined the discussion.
"Absolutely not," King replied.
O'Malley branded the response to the June 21 breakdown "utterly unacceptable" and days later rode the train, which Amtrak operates for the state.
The electric locomotive on the Penn Line's train stalled shortly after it pulled out of Union Station, with jammed brakes preventing it from being pulled by another locomotive. Some passengers spent more than three hours on the train when outside temperatures hovered at 90 degrees. Ten passengers were treated for heat-related symptoms, including dizziness, nausea and breathing problems.
Ehrlich credited the O'Malley administration and Amtrak for several reforms that have already taken place, including making an extra diesel locomotive available afternoons in Washington in case it is needed to move a broken-down train.
An Ehrlich aide said the Commuters for Ehrlich group was already in the planning stages before the June 21 episode. Ehrlich said he will listen to that group and other riders and might issue policy proposals before Election Day. In any event, he promised his administration will be better prepared when it takes office.
"This is a successful service," Ehrlich said. "It needs to be successful. ... So many people have become reliant on it."
July 8, 2010; 3:34 PM ET
Categories: 2010 Elections , John Wagner
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