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Diary of a MARC commuter

By Katherine Shaver

Penny Frye, a daily passenger on MARC's Brunswick Line, is one of the many Maryland commuter train riders who have endured frequent delays recently.

CSX Transportation, which operates the Brunswick and Camden lines for the Maryland Transit Administration, attributed the delays to necessary track repairs and track congestion. The Penn Line, which has also experienced delays, is operated by Amtrak. Maryland transit officials have said MARC delays also result from Amtrak and CSX dispatchers giving their own trains priority over MARC trains.

Frye, a legal assistant in Washington who lives in Brunswick, kept a detailed log during her commute home Oct. 29 to show what she says has become a frustrating, unpredictable ride.

Aboard Train 877, scheduled to leave Washington's Union station at 4:55 p.m. bound for Martinsburg, W. Va.:

4:57 p.m.: train stopped in the Union train yard - no explanation given

4:59 p.m.: train began moving

5:03 p.m.: train stopped in outer Union train yard. Passengers hear over the loud speaker: "We'll let you know what's going on when we find out from our dispatcher. We've got an integrity monitor." No explanation given about what an integrity monitor is or what it means. Conductor walked through car while stopped and said into his radio, "Must be busy there."

5:15 p.m.: Another announcement: "We'll be moving shortly, but we will move slowly for a while." No reason or further explanation given.

5:17 p.m.: Began moving after announcement: "We got permission from dispatch to move at controlled speed."

5:19 p.m.: Received text message from Maryland Transit Administration that train was running "15 minutes late." (already wrong)

5:29 p.m.: Arrived at first stop (Silver Spring). Scheduled departure time from Silver Spring was 5:09 p.m.

5:31-5:34 p.m.: wheelchair passenger loaded at Silver Spring. Took crew four minutes to unlock the lift shed, assemble the lift, load the passenger onto the lift, hand-crank the lift to load the passenger onto the train, lower the lift, then store lift back in shed.

5:36 p.m.: Announcement: "Given go ahead for full speed."

5:45 p.m.: Arrived at second stop (Rockville)

5:45 p.m.: Received text message from Maryland Transit Administration saying train was "25 minutes late due to CSX track speed restrictions." (I guess "restricted" also means "stopped")

5:47 p.m.: Departed Rockville (scheduled departure time is 5:21 p.m.)

6:20 p.m.: Departed Point of Rocks headed to Brunswick. (Scheduled departure time is 5:49 p.m.)

I'm unsure of the departure time from Brunswick, where the wheelchair passenger was offloaded. They were still stowing the lift, and the train was still in the station by the time I had reached my car and exited the parking lot.

Scheduled arrival time in Brunswick is 6:05.

From the Post's archives:

Brunswick Line riders endure months of malfunctions and cancellations

MARC riders struggle with delays, crowded trains

Maryland transportation secretary calls for MARC review

Rider says Metrorail more reliable than MARC

900 riders stuck on MARC train for more than two hours

By Katherine Shaver  | November 10, 2010; 2:30 PM ET
Categories:  Commuter Rail, MARC  
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Wow, delayed a whole 25 minutes. While it should have been better explained to you, do you know what the "intrusion fence" is? Its a sensor system that stopped a MARC train 3 minutes short from colliding with the debris from the Metro accident last year and also keeps Metro riders safe in the event a freight train derails. Try driving from DC to Brunswick on a regular day and incur less than 20 minutes of delay. More like 2 hours.

Posted by: johnson_transpo | November 11, 2010 12:17 AM | Report abuse

25 minutes is nothing for delays. I'm a frequent rider on the Camden Line from the DC area to Baltimore, and 'switching' issues have caused me to be late by as much as an hour. I do share, however, your frustration with the declining quality of service that MARC trains have had. CSX, who owns the routes for Camden and Brunswick, have clearly demonstrated they don't care much for the MARC commuters. It's not easy being green sometimes.

Posted by: jgarcia64 | November 12, 2010 5:22 AM | Report abuse

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