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Posted at 10:23 AM ET, 12/16/2010

Review finds flaws in MARC rail

By Katherine Shaver

The June breakdown of a MARC train that stranded 1,200 passengers in sweltering heat without air conditioning "reflects a series of organizational failures at multiple levels" in Maryland's commuter rail system, according to an investigation of the incident by the Maryland Transit Administration.

The 53-page report released Thursday identifies six key factors that contributed to the breakdown of the Camden Penn Line's Train 538 -- an incident that MARC passengers dubbed "the hell train" -- and the more than two hours that passengers endured waiting for help. Ten people were treated for heat-related symptoms on an afternoon when temperatures hovered around 90 degrees.

Those factors included an electric locomotive susceptible to breaking down in high heat, MARC and Amtrak management's failure to recognize the "deteriorating conditions" of passengers on board, and Amtrak crews focusing more on fixing the train than on helping passengers, the report said. Amtrak crews, which operate MARC trains, also neglected to keep passengers informed after the public address system failed and didn't call for emergency help "when it became apparent that the situation was deteriorating." It was ultimately 911 cell phone calls from passengers that summoned Prince George's County firefighters and paramedics.

MARC investigative report (PDF)

MARC has made numerous changes to address the problems, according to a letter accompanying the report from MTA administrator Ralign T. Wells to Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverley K. Swaim-Staley, who called for the review. Those include more frequent maintenance to keep the electric locomotive engines cooler, establishing "go teams" of MARC supervisors to responde to emergencies and more training to remind Amtrak crews to focus on passengers, rather than train mechanics, during breakdowns.

MARC trains also now have portable bullhorns so conductors can keep passengers informed in case the public address system fails, and the MARC customer information line's hours have been extended to 11 p.m., according to the report.

The MTA also is considering ways to add more trains during the morning and evening rush so those trains can be shorter, putting less strain on locomotives, Wells wrote.

By Katherine Shaver  | December 16, 2010; 10:23 AM ET
Categories:  Commuter Rail, MARC, Maryland  
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Not to be picky, but Train 538 was a Penn Line train, not Camden Line as the 2nd paragraph states.

Posted by: natsfan76 | December 16, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

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