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MARC Moving to Fix Problems

Paul J. Wiedefeld, head of the Maryland Transit Administration, today outlined steps being taken to improve the MARC trains' performance. It's been a difficult summer for the Maryland commuter railroad, despite increasing ridership.

You deserve better, he said.

"For the past six weeks, on-time performance for MARC train service has fallen far below what customers expect or deserve," Wiedefeld said in a statement. "Although some service disruptions are unavoidable, there were instances where we could have taken actions to reduce the anxiety, frustration and inconvenience that you and your family, friends and colleagues experienced."

He said he has directed MARC managers to review each recent problem with CSX and Amtark, owners of the three lines, and reduce the chances that the problems will recur.

For Penn Line riders, he said: MARC is talking daily with Amtrak to address delays and improve the reliability of the electric locomotives. The overhaul of four locomotives is nearly complete, and the first of those will be back in service in early August. The second is due back in mid-August.

For Brunswick and Camden Line riders, he said: CSX dispatchers have been relocated from Jacksonville to Baltimore to improve communication and service. He noted that the diesels are being replaced, with 26 new ones coming in at the rate of two a month starting early next year. Meanwhile, maintenance on the old ones will be improved.

There's a lot to improve: During June, Penn Line trains were on schedule 81 percent of the time. For Camden Line trains, it was 63 percent and for the Brunswick Line, it was 63 percent.

At this rate, people are going to decide that $5 gas is a bargain.

Summer always stresses MARC's very old equipment, as well as its riders. Breakdowns have been frequent. But the electric locomotives on the Penn Line have been out of service for overhaul, so MARC has been using older diesels in their place. The diesels are 40 years old and not aging gracefully. Plus, there are reliability problems with the new electrics, the MTA says.

See Lena Sun's story on this week's train problems across the region.

By Robert Thomson  |  July 23, 2008; 3:28 PM ET
Categories:  transit  
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MARC touted their new electrics a few years ago when they first arrived (they bought some similar to the Acela engines) - they spent a lot of money to improve the time to Perryville by just a few minutes. Big Deal. Regular riders found very quickly that these new engines weren't all that great and the nothing really improved.

That money would have better spent on station improvements that would help passengers detrain more quickly at crowded low-platform stations (Halethorpe for example).

Also will any of these new or rehabbed engines be made available for stand-by in case of a disabled train? Or will MARC still cry about not having enough equipment.

And last, a lot of these delays could be minimized if they could avoid stacking trains on the platform that depart within short time spans of each other (e.g. when the local to Penn/Baltimore leaves at 4:15 and the 4:24 to Perryville is directly behind it on the platform). When the 1st train is disabled (as happens a few times a year), it means a madhouse of passengers trying to find alternate ways home.

Posted by: Bill | July 23, 2008 4:31 PM | Report abuse

MARC sent out this email yesterday afternoon. Within an hour of the email there already were delays, wrong tracks posted, and customers waiting in 100 degree weather on platforms for announced trains that weren't unlocked. This morning the Camden line was a mess. Cars were running 30-60 minutes late. Some trains were even cancelled. The apology was nice, but actions speak louder than words.

Also, new equipment would be nice, but does it matter if the switches don't work. Let's face it, if the train doesn't move, it doesn't matter how old it is.

Posted by: Heather | July 24, 2008 9:05 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: kevin bender, frederick MD | July 24, 2008 10:26 AM | Report abuse

MARC needs some firings at the administrative/management level. Whomever is setting the pathetic bar for the Camden line. Broken intercoms, failing signs, 50% lateness, constant switch problems, scheduling mixups, how long until this incompetence leads to another crash?

Posted by: Eh | July 31, 2008 1:46 PM | Report abuse

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