Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Stuck on Amtrak


Here I am stuck on an Amtrak train at BWI at 9:30pm after a long day at work and running on little sleep from last night. We've been holding outside BWI for about 30 minutes because of a 'situation' with a passenger. Turns out that Amtrak explanations for delays are just as vague as on MARC.

Why am I stuck on Amtrak instead of MARC tonight you ask? It's the second week in a row that MARC's been running ihe 's' holiday schedule which means the last train leaves DC for Baltimore on the Penn Line at 7:40pm. So for those of us who have work schedules that stretch beyond a 9 to 5 it means coughing up 20 bucks to get home at night. I'd like to find out why Amtrak doesn't honor monthly MARC ticket holders on these occasions, I assume since it's a busy time during the holidays they only want to take paying customers.

So tired and about to strangle the passenger seated behind me who's blasting elevator music from his headphones.

Monday, December 21, 2009

MARC's a mess following snowstorm

MARC wasn't even able to get the dates right the day after the snow stopped flying. My boyfriend pointed out that in the notice below, the date in the subject line of the email sent out by MARC notifying passengers that the system would run a limited schedule on Monday, is incorrect. There's also a misspelling and what I consider a bit of a preachy tone telling riders how to handle the snow (then again I'm originally from New England and I think people in this area totally overact to a couple feet of snowfall).

Trains this morning we're running between 20 minutes to an hour behind schedule. They were also overcrowded as MARC is on a limited holiday schedule today, which means that there about five less trains running today. The last train to leave DC tonight will depart at 7:40pm- so much for my plan to work late before I take off some time for the holiday.

Despite the fact that the fed was closed today, Penn Station was jam-packed with travelers, so I hope MARC goes back to a regular schedule tomorrow before they return to a limited schedule for the holidays.

Amtrak trains were also running behind this morning, about an hour late when I left Penn Station at 7:30am.


-----Original Message-----
From: Maryland Transit Administration
[mailto:mta@alerts.marylandmail.com]
Sent: Sunday, December 20, 2009 6:08 PM
To: XXXXX
Subject: MTA: MARC service on S schedule for Monday, Dec 20. Go to
www.mtamaryland.com for more details.

Attention MARC passengers--

MARC will operate an "S" schedule on Monday, December 21, 2009 due to
Saturday's snowstorm and the Federal Government's decision to close on
Monday. Only trains with an "S" under the train number in the timetable
will operate.

MARC station parking lots and platforms have or are in the process of
being cleared of snow and salt is being applied. The platforms have
been cleared, but passing trains continue to blow snow back on them.
Please exercise EXTREEM caution tomorrow morning when leaving your car,
walking to the platform, and boarding the train:

Leave yourself plenty of time to not only get to the station, but once
there to get to the platform.

Use the handrails when using station steps or ramps as icy conditions
may still exist.

Hold the handrails while boarding, detraining, and while walking through
the train. The vestibule steps can become icy and wet shoes can be
slippery on the car floors.

Above all else, wear sensible shoes and clothing. Temperatures will be
quite frigid in the morning so bundle up and wear shoes that will allow
you plenty of traction.

A decision about service for Tuesday, December 22 will be made Monday
afternoon. Thank you for riding MARC Train Service.

December 20, 2009 6:03 PM

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bikes on MARC?

Area transit blogs are making noise about the merits of allowing non-folding bikes on MARC trains.

MARC has an across the board ban, according to Matt Johnson over at Greater Greater Washington, on bringing bikes aboard, citing safety and space concerns.

Johnson says that the ban is only one of two in the country's commuter rail system. He lists a variety of solutions for MARC's concerns: straps to tie down bikes, allowing bikes during off peak hours, limiting cyclists to two per train.

He also argues that MARC is not following a 2000 law passed by the Maryland General Assembly that requires the MTA to make accommodations for cyclists.

Johnson's post provoked a heated discussion, i.e. from commenter neff: "I'd rather see all private cars and bikes banned than have smelly sweaty bike jerks invade another space of pedestrians."

The Sun's Dresser picked up on Johnson's post and took MARC's side in the argument, also citing safety concerns.

"In an uncrowded car, I can see them becoming a missile," Dresser worries. Dresser notes that he's a fan of cyclists and suggests that commuters purchase two bikes, keeping one at work and one at home.

As a daily MARC commuter who occasionally bikes from her house in Baltimore to Penn Station, I've often thought about buying a folding bike as it would be easier to maneuver during rush hour. Used folding bikes on Craigslist like this one are affordable at $125, especially when you think about what you'd save on Metro fares.

Considering the glacial pace at which MARC makes changes to its system, I wouldn't hold your breath for a relaxing of the bike ban.

:

Friday, December 11, 2009

7am Penn Line creeping along on middle track

Presumably since there's ongoing track work on the third track (see below) the 7am departure from Baltimore to DC is traveling on the middle track. We've been creeping along at a snail's pace between stops and loading at BWI took about 10 minutes as all the passengers could only board through one door and by stepping down onto the tracks and then using a small foot stool to get up into the train.

Original arrival time in DC was 8am, it's 7:45 now and we've only just left BWI.
------Original Message------
From: Maryland Transit Administration
To: stuckonmarc@gmail.com
Subject: MTA: Penn Line southbound train operating 10-30"late;northbound train operating 20-25"late.
Sent: Dec 11, 2009 7:36 AM

Penn Line Update:Track work is in progress on No.3 track between WBal and BWI. Southbound trains are operating 10-30" late; northbound train 402 operating express to Baltimore, train 506 operating 20-25" late. Updates to follow as information is made available.

December 11, 2009 7:35 AM


Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Foiled by MARC

I tried to get an early start today so that I could go to the gym before work. Alas MARC's Penn Line's been hit by a bunch of delays this morning- some due to Amtrak interefence. So goes the life of a commuter...

More and more I'm feeling like I'm living in Cuba again, where delays and break downs on public transportation meant that no schedule even existed for the public bus.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bring your complaints to MARC managers tomorrow night in DC

Since it's politically unwise to raise fares during a recession and ticket sales pay for only about half of what it costs to run MARC, we're looking at a continually beleaguered commuter system for the forseeable future.

The only way at this point to push for improvements is to show up en mass at events where top MARC officials speak to the public.

So come to Union Station tomorrow between 4 and 7 to let the MARC managers know what it costs you to be late to work on a weekly basis because of system delays.

More info below-
------Original Message------
From: Maryland Transit Administration
To: stuckonmarc@gmail.com
Subject: MTA: Meet the MARC Management on Thursday,12-10-09 from 4-7pm. www.mtamaryland.com
Sent: Dec 8, 2009 2:03 PM

Reminder: Meet the MARC Management on Thursday, December 10, 2009 at Union Station from 4-7pm. A MARC employee, proficient in American Sign Language will be on location to assist with questions and concerns.

December 8, 2009 2:00 PM


Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Penn Line bogged down by delays, cancellations

This gives you an idea of the f#*kshow that is the MARC system this morning:

Penn Line Update: train 415 is operating 30 minutes late, followed by train 417 operating 20-25 minutes late. Expect crowded conditions. Train 521 is canceled Perryville to Washington, Amtrak 183 will handle passengers. Northbound passengers, train 408 is operating 20 minutes late.

December 9, 2009 8:13 AM

I'm on Amtrak's 183, it's standing room only.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

-----Original Message-----
From: stuckonmarc@gmail.com
Date: Wed, 9 Dec 2009 13:03:52
To: Stuckonmarc<stuckonmarc.10minslate@blogger.com>
Subject: Fw: 7:40am PennLine lost power

We're being put on Amtrak's 8am train that stops at BWI, New Carrolton and Union Station.

It's good that we have a compensated alternative though I don't enjoy the holier than thou looks we get from regular Amtrak riders.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

-----Original Message-----
From: stuckonmarc@gmail.com
Date: Wed, 9 Dec 2009 12:50:21
To: Stuckonmarc<stuckonmarc.10minslate@blogger.com>
Subject: 7:40am PennLine lost power

We lost power just a few feet south of Baltimore. Conductors informed us that we'd have to go back to the station to figure out the problem and determine whether the train will continue to D.C.

Why does this always seem to happen when I have an early morning meeting?
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Fw: 7:40am PennLine lost power

We're being put on Amtrak's 8am train that stops at BWI, New Carrolton and Union Station.

It's good that we have a compensated alternative though I don't enjoy the holier than thou looks we get from regular Amtrak riders.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

-----Original Message-----
From: stuckonmarc@gmail.com
Date: Wed, 9 Dec 2009 12:50:21
To: Stuckonmarc<stuckonmarc.10minslate@blogger.com>
Subject: 7:40am PennLine lost power

We lost power just a few feet south of Baltimore. Conductors informed us that we'd have to go back to the station to figure out the problem and determine whether the train will continue to D.C.

Why does this always seem to happen when I have an early morning meeting?
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

7:40am PennLine lost power

We lost power just a few feet south of Baltimore. Conductors informed us that we'd have to go back to the station to figure out the problem and determine whether the train will continue to D.C.

Why does this always seem to happen when I have an early morning meeting?
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Update: Refurbished MARC cars

Fourteen cars have new seats spread among train sets on the Penn Line, I learned at tonight's Meet the MARC Managers tonight at Union Station. (Through the winter these meetings will move inside at Union Station due to mostly outdoor conditions at in between MARC stations).

The refurbishment means 12 to 16 more seats per car. The trade off is 2 inches less leg room per seat, which caused many taller commuters to complain about the update to MARC managers tonight.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

-----Original Message-----
From: stuckonmarc@gmail.com
Date: Mon, 16 Nov 2009 23:53:55
To: Stuckonmarc<stuckonmarc.10minslate@blogger.com>
Subject: Refurbished MARC cars

Sitting in a refurbished MARC car on the 6:40pm Penn Line back to Baltimore.

It's not Amtrak but at least the seats and floor are clean. There's less legroom in the updated version but the seats themselves
are more comfortable. Something about the shape of the paired seats remind be of an airplane and there are no armrests dividing adjoing seats, which I find annoying.

I'll try to get some more information on the refurbishments at the Meet the MARC Managers event at Union Station tomorrow night.

I'll send a photo of the new seats from my Blackberry in a follow-up post.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Monday, November 16, 2009

IMG00066.jpg

New seats in refurbished MARC cars.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Refurbished MARC cars

Sitting in a refurbished MARC car on the 6:40pm Penn Line back to Baltimore.

It's not Amtrak but at least the seats and floor are clean. There's less legroom in the updated version but the seats themselves
are more comfortable. Something about the shape of the paired seats remind be of an airplane and there are no armrests dividing adjoing seats, which I find annoying.

I'll try to get some more information on the refurbishments at the Meet the MARC Managers event at Union Station tomorrow night.

I'll send a photo of the new seats from my Blackberry in a follow-up post.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

The Commuter vs. The Dairy Farmer


After being evacuated from Union Station last Thursday (see below posts) I was talking to a fellow disgruntled MARC commuter as we waited on the paltform for the delayed 6:40p.m. Penn Line toward Baltimore.

Exasperated by the system's frequent delays he said "Maybe I'll just become a dairy farmer" to escape the trials of commuting on the MARC.

I have to admit that at the time I agreed with the appeal of a career change, which would entail riding around on a pickup or tractor in the country versus a delay-ridden train through suburbs into the city.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Comments

I've been informed that this blog isn't allowing comments. Commenting was initially unrestricted (no registration or moderating required) when I first started the blog. After a spammer put up vulgar comments I wasn't able to delete them so I thought I had simply 'hidden' all previous comments and set up the back end so that comments would be allowed but monitored going forward.

I'll try to fix the problem today as I'd love to get more feedback from readers in the comments section.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Update: Union Station evacuation due to exhaust fumes

Last Thursday night (Nov. 12) all travelers were evacuated from Union Station at the height of the evening commute for at least 25 minutes because of a fire alarm. At the time an official said there had been a fire though there was no evidence or smell of smoke.

Stuck on MARC has learned that the evacuation was related to a misshap with one of Amtrak's diesel engines. The engine- which may have been parked in a forbidden part of the station- expelled exhaust fumes into the ventallation system, which in turn flooded the baggage claim area inside the station, sending two Amtrak employees to the hospital.

It's unclear how the fumes got into the general boarding area but I've been told that the engine in question was awaiting attachment to a southbound train (i.e. Virginia, Carolinas, Florida) and was parked in a restricted area.

If you know more about this incident or if you smelled the exhaust fumes email us details at stuckonmarc@gmail.com.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

-----Original Message-----
From: stuckonmarc@gmail.com
Date: Thu, 12 Nov 2009 23:35:36
To: Stuckonmarc<stuckonmarc.10minslate@blogger.com>
Subject: Union Station being evacuated

The entire Union Station is being evacuated and trains are being held because of a fire alarm. A uniformed official said there was an actual fire, but he wouldn't give me more details. Peopele are calm if confcused. There's no smell or other evidence of smoke.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Thursday, November 12, 2009

All clear at Union Station

After some mixed signals on the fire alarm that evacuated all travelers from Union Station a police officer allowed the crowd back into the station. Only MARC Brunswick line is boarding on time the rest of the trains were held outside the station and are delayed for an undetermined period of time.
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Union Station being evacuated

The entire Union Station is being evacuated and trains are being held because of a fire alarm. A uniformed official said there was an actual fire, but he wouldn't give me more details. Peopele are calm if confcused. There's no smell or other evidence of smoke.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dr. Gridlock entertains questions about Biden security delays


On Monday, The Washington Post's Dr. Gridlock, aka Robert Thomson, entertained questions from readers of his blog about Joe Biden's continued preference of riding the rails as Vice President, which consequently causes security delays at Union Station.

Many of the readers expressed frustration that the Vice President would dare inconvenience their commutes.

I generally agree with this last exchange:
Biden: Is this post a joke? You live in D.C.! Get used to it. Plus, Biden is on the record as saying he takes rail whenever he can because he never really got over the fear of car accidents engendered by the one in which his wife died and his sons were severely injured.

Robert Thomson: We want them to be men of the people, until they start getting out with the people.


And to Jeff Quinton over at Inside Charm City, you're most welcome for the reporting work I did to confirm speculation posted on your blog. I enjoy the chance to debate views on this topic, but please, 10 minute delays on MARC are par for the course.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Trainmaster emails Stuck on MARC about likely suicide

Shortly after Camden Line's train #856 arrived in Baltimore about two hours late because of a likely suicide just south of Riverdale, State Trainmaster Dave Johnson sent Stuck on MARC the following email about the incident. I'd like to note that before Mr. Johnson boarded #856 there was at least 10 minutes of silence after passengers heard a "thump" and the train stopped in between stations. Later we received vague information from a conductor. Once Mr. Johnson took control of the situation, he kept the passengers abreast of developments in a calm, efficient and professional manner. I appreciate how he handled the night's events, and our condolences go out to the victim's family and friends as well as the MARC crew that had to witness the event.

Here's Mr. Johnson's email:

Julia--

My name is Dave Johnson and I am the Trainmaster for the State of Maryland on the Camden and Penn Lines. I didn't even realize you were on P856 tonight, but now thinking back remember seeing you--I met you last week at the Meet the Management when you were talking to John Hovatter.

The incident tonight was, by all accounts, a suicide. I would commend to you and your blog readers the following excellent article that appeared last month in the Washington Post. All too often, the engineers and other railroad operating employees are forgotten in the trauma of an incident like this. I'm proud to say that I've known Bruce Evans for many, many years and he is a highly skilled consummate professional, like the engineers in MARC train service:

Thanks again for your patience tonight.

-Dave Johnson

Suicide confirmed

A MARC official confirmed to me that the "incident" that stalled the Camden train #856 was a suicide with a grim nod. We've been told that we'll not be let off the train because we're in between stations, it's dark outside, and the surrounding terrain is steep and. not secure.

Our rescue train is due in about 9:15pm...we probably won't get in to Camden Yards until after 10:00pm.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Fw: MTA: Marc 856 stopped outside of WASH due striking a trespasser. Marc trainfrom Baltimore to aid.

MTA is calling the obstruction a 'trespasser.' I haven't confirmed this as there are no officials in sight, but a front car passenger told me that someone jumped off a bridge and the train tried to use the emergency brakes to no avail and now the authorities are on the scene "looking for the pieces."
------Original Message------
From: Maryland Transit Administration
To: stuckonmarc@gmail.com
Subject: MTA: Marc 856 stopped outside of WASH due striking a trespasser. Marc trainfrom Baltimore to aid.
Sent: Nov 4, 2009 8:22 PM

Camden: Marc 856 is stopped outside of WASH due to striking a trespasser on the tracks. Marc equipment from Baltimore is being dispatched to conduct a passenger transfer. Expect a delay of approx 2 hours for passengers to their destinations.

November 4, 2009 8:22 PM


Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Fw: Camden line fails me

This is unconfirmed, but we're now hearing that the 'obstruction' we hit could have been a suicide. I'll update this when I know mre details. An ambulance is on the scene.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

-----Original Message-----
From: stuckonmarc@gmail.com
Date: Thu, 5 Nov 2009 01:11:21
To: Stuckonmarc<stuckonmarc.10minslate@blogger.com>
Subject: Camden line fails me

I hopped on the 7:35 Camden Line out of Union Station tonight instead of the 7:40 Penn Line deparure thinking I could get home to Baltimore a few minutes early.

Now we're stopped outside of Riverdale for an "indeterminate" amount of time because we hit an obstructon on the tracks. We're waiting for the train to be inspected, currently running about 20 minutes late.

I have a massive MARC headache and I'm cursing myself for choosing the wrong line.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Real Men Ride MARC

I spotted a Penn Line passenger with a black messenger bag emrodiered in gold with the words "Real Men Ride MARC" early this week. I was too groggy on my morning commute to ask the passenger about his bag, but I'd love to know the backstory. Send me an email if you're clued in; stuckonmarc@gmail.com.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Camden line fails me

I hopped on the 7:35 Camden Line out of Union Station tonight instead of the 7:40 Penn Line deparure thinking I could get home to Baltimore a few minutes early.

Now we're stopped outside of Riverdale for an "indeterminate" amount of time because we hit an obstructon on the tracks. We're waiting for the train to be inspected, currently running about 20 minutes late.

I have a massive MARC headache and I'm cursing myself for choosing the wrong line.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Thursday, October 29, 2009

MARC managers answer to Stuck On MARC

MARC Train Director John Hovatter gave me about 20 minutes of his time toward the end of the three hour 'Meet the MARC Managers" session at Union Station this evening. I'll post more on our discussion - about the delayed diesel engines, new security program, stimulus funded system upgrades- later but for now I want to tell you what he said about today's MARC meltdown on the Penn Line (my morning train arrived 25 minutes late and my 6:40pm return was cancelled).

An Amtrak train pulled down a sagging overhead wire about 3:15 this afternoon, which in turn disabled the train and only left one free track for both north and south-bound Amtrak and MARC trains. At the time MTA warned of 10 to 30 minute delays on all Penn Line trains. Over four hours later- despite the cancellation of the earlier train- the 7:40 is running about 15 minutes behind schedule.

Director Hovatter's only explanation was it's "one of those things that happen," and "it could have happened anywhere." He said that Amtrak would repair the overhead line that snagged the train and caused a domino effect of problems by tomorrow. The repair isn't symptomatic of a line system in need of replacement. The fix is "not a big deal" Hovatter said.

What's a big deal is the anguish caused to riders, one of whom cursed MARC personnel on my delayed train tonight, calling them "jack#*(:!" with "substandard IQs. In defense of MARC personnel, the managers handled an irate crowd tonight with patience and Hovatter was fairly well informed on most issues, though he refused to let me tape record our conversation and I had to push him to expound upon vague answers to my questions.

Check back soon for more answers from the MARC director to questions posed by Stuck on MARC.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Union Station security delays explained

Either Vice President Joe Biden or his wife Jill are responsible for the occasional "security hold" delays out of Union Station, said MTA MARC Train Director John Hovatter.

Here's the notice MTA sent out yesterday- Oct. 28- around 6:30.

"Camden: Marc 852 is operating approx 15 mins late due to a security hold in Union Station."

I wonder if there's a similar hold on the other end in Delaware. It's pretty cool and true to Biden's blue collar creds that the second couple still uses public transportation.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Monday, October 26, 2009

Will more delays mean increased safety?

MTA Police announced a new security program for MARC stations to start this Friday. The announcement also warns passengers to plan for delays (maybe police could coordinate with dispatchers and screen people when trains are running 10-20 minutes late). I have a number of questions about this announcement: Why now? Why doesn't MARC inspect tickets before passengers board trains (as Amtrak does) to increase safety? How do we know the searches will be random and won't become profiling? Will the searches cause more delays on an already problematic system? I'm going to try to make the meeting with MARC managers this Thursday evening so I'll see if they can answer any of my questions.

Police Security Checkpoints at MARC Stations

Random Security Checks Planned for MARC Stations:
Customers Urged To Allow For Extra Time

BALTIMORE, MD (October 26, 2009) – Focused on enhancing security at MARC commuter rail stations along the Penn, Camden and Brunswick Lines, the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) police in partnership with security and canine teams from the Maryland Transportation Authority and the Transit Security Administration will begin random security screenings at stations beginning October 30, 2009. Screenings can potentially involve the check of luggage, packages, or other carry-on items customers may have in their possession. While every effort will be made to conduct the security checks in a timely fashion, customers should be prepared that extra time may be required to board their train.

“The MTA continually engages in methods of ensuring customer safety and system preservation,” said Lt. Colonel John E. Gavrilis, Acting Chief of Police. “These exercises underscore our commitment to the safety and security of our customers and systems. If you hear, see or smell something suspicious, call 1-800-492-TIPS (8477). ”

The MTA police thank customers for their patience and cooperation as the agency works to enhance security throughout the MARC system.


October 26, 2009 1:30 PM

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dresser details morning meltdown on MARC

The Sun's intrepid transportation reporter, Michael Dresser, has two detailed blog posts on this morning's MARC fiasco. The first catalogues delays and cancellations on the Penn and Camden lines, which caused my train (Penn's #415) to arrive in DC about 15 minutes late.

Dresser's second post is unusual in that it brings some good news about the beleaguered MARC, however qualified. He reports that the newly rehabbed electric locomotives are not at fault for this morning's problems, rather there was a failure of the electric signal system from one of the cabs.

Dresser also breaks down some of the mechanics of the commuter trains, i.e. how a front and rear locomotive work together to pull and push a full train to its destination. I'd love another explainer, from Dresser or some other informed individual, about why MARC frequently needs to swap out engines from trains that frequently travel between DC and Baltimore.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Another system-wide outage

How apropos given today's problems.

MARC Commuters: The MARC Tracker system is currently down with a power issue to the main server.

October 19, 2009 4:50 PM

Update on a.m. delays

Penn Line 7:40 departure from Baltimore arrived in DC 30 minutes behind schedule. Upon arrival the conductor said that the power outage delayed the entire northeast corridor. I'd say today's problems provide further evidence that the infrsatructure sorely needs updating.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Nightmare avoided

System is back up and running. We're headed to DC, about 30 minutes behind schedule.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Major substation down

Initial diagnosis of the problem on the Penn Line was wrong, the conductor has just informed us that the entire substation that powers the grid between Washington and Perryville has gone down. There was no failure of catinary system. No word on how long we'll be sitting here.

Side note: I just heard a commuter say, "There should be pills for commuter stress."
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Penn trains stuck in W. Baltimore

The 7:40 deparure from Penn Station is being held until further notice in W. Baltimore because there are catinary(sp?) problems. An engineer walking around the train in a hard hat just explained to me that there's been a failure of the catinary system or the overhead lines that electric trains need to run on and all electric trains have been stopped on the Penn Line. (Diesel trains are not effected.) The engineer explained that the lines are made of copper and when it's really hot or cold they expand and contract and mess up the system (something about a clip coming loose and wires hanging out of place).

"Length of delay at this time is not known," conductor has just informed us.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Friday, October 16, 2009

Penn delayed again

Not on a Friday! Penn Line train #440 (6:40 departure from Union Station) is delayed 15 minutes. The train is in the station but it needs a new engine according to a MARC official. This situation is a repeat of last night. What happened to the old engine? Does it only have a one-way Baltimore to DC lifespan?
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fw: Update on Penn Line

Camden's 6:43 left only 2 minutes behind schedule...I didn't stick around to see how late the Penn line would run.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

-----Original Message-----
From: stuckonmarc@gmail.com
Date: Thu, 15 Oct 2009 23:48:59
To: Stuckonmarc<stuckonmarc.10minslate@blogger.com>
Subject: Update on Penn Line

6:40 from Union Station is delayed, a Marc official said he couldn't give an ETD because the train's not even at the station yet and once it arrives the engine has to be swapped out. It's unclear whether the Camden Line (6:43 departure) will leave on time as it's still not in the station yet.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Update on Penn Line

6:40 from Union Station is delayed, a Marc official said he couldn't give an ETD because the train's not even at the station yet and once it arrives the engine has to be swapped out. It's unclear whether the Camden Line (6:43 departure) will leave on time as it's still not in the station yet.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Fw: MTA: MARC Tracker System is back on line and operating properly.

We'll have to see about that...
------Original Message------
From: Maryland Transit Administration
To: stuckonmarc@gmail.com
Subject: MTA: MARC Tracker System is back on line and operating properly.
Sent: Oct 15, 2009 8:15 AM

MARC Tracker System is back on line and operating properly.

October 15, 2009 8:12 AM


Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Fw: MTA: The MARC Tracker System is temporarily unavailable. We are working toget it back on line ASAP

This implies that, at some point, it was working.

------Original Message------
From: Maryland Transit Administration
To: stuckonmarc@gmail.com
Subject: MTA: The MARC Tracker System is temporarily unavailable. We are working toget it back on line ASAP
Sent: Oct 15, 2009 6:01 AM

ALL MARC COMMUTERS: The MARC Tracker System is temporarily unavailable. We are working to get it back on line ASAP.

October 15, 2009 5:58 AM


Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

'You got good boots...'

'That makes my job easy,' said Carlos, the shoe shiner at Penn Station. Five minutes and eight dollars bought me a professional shine that has my brown leather boots looking like new. Try out Carlos' chair sometime if your shoes are scuffed and you have time to burn while awaiting a delayed train (this morning it's the 7:40 to DC).
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Thursday, October 8, 2009

More Dresser on returned locomotives

In case you haven't read it yet, here's the link to Dresser's article in today's Sun about four rehabbed locomotives that are back home at Penn Station. Back but not in service. An MTA spokesman tells Dresser that the engines need to undergo a few more rounds of tests before they're put to work, hopefully as early as next week. The spokesman also tells dresser that "MTA expects to deploy the first two new diesel engines by the end of this year and to add two per month next year." Let's all keep our fingers crossed...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Early

Tonight, for the first time since I started taking it in June 2008, the 440 was three minutes early getting into Baltimore!
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines?


The Sun's Dresser has a cautious blog post about the possible return of two electric MARC locomotives. He quotes an Amtrak spokesman reporting that after three years in a repair shop in Delaware, the locomotives may return home to Maryland by the end of the year. The returned locomotives could alleviate crowding and delays, Dresser says. Check out tomorrow's Sun for more details.

Monday, October 5, 2009

MARC conducter keeps me honest


My boyfriend and I try to ride our bikes to work (well partway for me as I bike from my house in Fell's to Penn Station and then take the Penn Line to DC) at least three times a week. When I bike to work I wear gym clothes and change at the office. A friendly Penn Line conductor noticed and inquired about why I'm sometimes in slacks and other times wearing sweats. He gave me kudos on doing the 20-minute ride - with hills.

But now he's keeping me honest. This morning, when I showed up in a silk skirt and flats, he shot me a disapproving look. I explained that we'd done the 40-mile Tour du Port yesterday and my thighs were still aching.

"Forty miles? Then the 20 minutes should have been easy," was his retort. Thanks to the conductor I've got someone to keep me from resorting to laziness in the mornings.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Amtrak honors MARC

tickets this morning on its 7:35 a.m. train as MARC trains headed south from Penn Station are running up to 45 minutes late. Oh yeah, and the schedule baord is not working. What's next, the platform collapses?
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Monday, September 28, 2009

'MARC is the worst commuter rail...

...well there are probably worse commuter rails in India and maybe Mexico.'

- Overheard on the MARC train 544, which left DC for Perryville 25 minutes behind schedule.

A MARC employee told me the train was delayed because they had to replace a motor. When I asked him what happened to the old motor he quipped: "You don't want to know."

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The pm rush hour line-up

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

The pm rush hour line-up

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Safe after 7:30 a.m.?

Inside Charm City has a rundown of the mess throughout the MARC system this morning, which caused delays due to mechanical problems, crowding and the recurring 'late arrival of equipment.' There have been a number of early morning delays throughout the summer, but in my experience the problems are usually solved and the train is only running (as is typical) 10-minutes late.

Maybe the conductors just aren't morning people?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Equipment shortage has MARC begging Amtrak

This is infuriating. The already over-crowded Penn Line has been squeezed even tighter this week because MARC has a shortage of equipment. Meanwhile the new diesel engines that MARC was supposed to have running last October, according to MRAC Chair Rafi Guroian, are sitting unused because of bureaucratic red tape. MARC's message about the shortage apologizes to passengers, and explains that it has to go to Amtrak to beg for more electric locomotives. Instead of putting a band-aid on the problem, MARC should work to cut through the red tape and get those new engines running already.

Here's the full note from MARC:

Attention Penn Line Passengers--

Due to a continued shortage of equipment, the following trains will once again be operating with one less car than normal:

This afternoon (Sept. 2)--Train 436, the 5:34pm departure from Union Station

Tomorrow morning (Sept. 3)--Train 513, the 6:30am departure from Perryville / 7:15am departure from Baltimore Penn.

We realize that this is the third straight day of this service disruption and that it causes inconvenience for our passengers. We are working with Amtrak to get more of our electric locomotives back into service which will allow us to return the seventh car to this consist.

We appreciate your understanding and patronage.

September 2, 2009 3:03 PM

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Full interview: Rafi, your man on MRAC


Rafi Guroian loves trains. His Facebook profile picture (shown above) demonstrates the pure joy he often feels when riding the rails. His blog is dedicated to the subject and he works for Amtrak. He is also the chair of the MARC Riders Advisory Council (MRAC), an independent organization that acts as a liaison between commuters and the MTA.

Earlier this month I met Rafi at Union Station, where we sat down to talk about trains, particularly the MARC system. This post includes the (edited) entirety of my interview with Rafi, which I published throughout the past week.

Rafi Guroian interview, Part I: Meet Rafi


Q: Let’s start off by talking about how you got involved in the advisory council. How long you’ve been with the council?
A: Well, some time ago, I guess about three years ago there was a plan to close four stations in the MARC system and there was a grassroots effort to prevent that closing and the end result of that effort was the council, in essence. There was a call for applications that went out and I just filled out an application and got a call and so I was one of the first members of the council.

Q: When did you take the controls as chair of MRAC?
A: I was just elected this last spring so I have another couple of years.

Q:
How long have you been riding MARC?
A: I’ve been riding MARC since- regularly since the fall of 2004- so it’s been awhile.

Q: Do you see yourself as passionate about public transportation?
A: Yeah. Although [laughs] within reason. I’ll take the train if I can. I’d much rather take the train than drive to Washington every day. Driving you get frustrated, you know, you can’t sit and read, you can’t sleep, you can’t watch DVDs. I find that I’m able to sustain the commute to Washington for a lot longer and now it’s going on five years. If I’d been driving, I probably wouldn’t have lasted two.

Q: What do you do on the train?
A: Usually I answer emails and play games on my iPhone.

Q:
What games do you play?
A: Right now pinball games but I’m an old adventure gamer from the 1990s, so I have a bunch of you know, 'Monkey Island' and stuff like that. They’ve got them on the iPhone now. So I do that. I’ve worked my way through I think every 'Star Trek' series except the original. I do a lot of Netflix. Netlix is the reason I’m able to get through the day sometimes.

Rafi Guroian interview, Part II: A voice for commuters of the future


Q:
As chair of MRAC since this spring, you’ve been working to give the council more direction so that members can both learn from the MTA about the commuter system, but also make the relationship more of a two-way street so that riders’ views are represented. How’s that process going?
A: I think more and more we’re finding that as a council we’re going to have to straddle the line between real advocacy – transportation advocacy- and also a little bit of lobbying to essentially represent the needs of the perspective MARC constituents.

Q: Lobbying Maryland politicians?
A: Yep, working with Maryland politicians mainly and also lobbying on behalf of the constituents to the politicians and to the MTA and consequently to the governor for added service. Right now the Maryland 35-year rail plan is stalled and even when it wasn’t stalled it was not as ambitious as a lot of people on the council thought it should have been. When you compare it to what’s going on in the rest of the country in rail expansion, it was almost a little embarrassing that we were only talking about extensions, a few miles, and we weren’t talking about any new lines at all. I guess we’re trying to make sure that potential MARC riders of the future, on lines that don’t exist, are represented. Because otherwise there’s no voice for them.

Q:
Back to your mission of providing the council with a forward looking mission, I understand that one of your approaches is to look at new housing developments to gauge how you could connect emerging communities with potential future rail lines?
A: I did my own little study [and] came up with essentially a best case scenario for 35 years from now what Maryland could have if Maryland were to adopt a very pro-rail strategy like you see in Illinois or Missouri or California or Virginia for that matter.

Q: I lost my $175 monthly MARC ticket a few months ago and I was enraged when I found out that it’s non-refundable. Has the council brought up this issue with MTA?
A: We as a council have to pick our fights. We’re pushing harder for what we think is the future of ticketing and that’s essentially a proof of payment system similar to the SmarTrip you use on the Metro. We would like to see the state of Maryland move to that. This is a major investment in infrastructure because you have different stations in different areas of the state with completely different scenarios where every station would be a customization job and it’s very, very cost intensive to do that. But it’s been done. It’s been done in California. The Caltrain uses it and it’s been very effective.

Q: I read that the stimulus funding for MARC will go toward a number of surface improvements like replacing the PA system, adding LED lighting, etc. Is anything in the works?
A: Most of it’s going to station improvements. And it’s stuff that you’ll notice, but it’s not huge. No new structures or anything. You’re looking at repairing platforms and repairing lighting, putting in a better messaging system. It’s not anything on the scale of brand new trains coming on line or anything like that.

Q: When I was listening to Obama and Biden tout the high speed rail portion of stimulus money I wondered why they aren’t supporting commuter rails since it’s a very middle class initiative and enjoys increasing ridership.
A: You’ll have to ask them, but I can tell you that any money that goes to high speed rail is almost certainly going to benefit commuter rail that exists or may exist because it’s going to piggyback on that infrastructure. I think your money is better spent on inner city passenger rail improvements, because not only will you cover Amtrak services, but any commuter services that exist are going to be able to run at faster speed. If they don’t exist the environment may be created where they’re realistic where they weren’t before.

Q: So you’re optimistic about a potential piggyback?
A: Yeah. My worry is there’s not enough money. It’s like throwing a little piece of meat into a piranha tank and everybody wants it.

Rafi Guroian interview, Part III: A vision for MARC’s future

Q: What’s the deal with these new engines that were supposed to come on line this spring?
A: There is a lot of red tape, unforeseen red tape from what I understand in getting the new engines on line. We desperately need them. They’re diesel engines, they move 110 miles an hour. They are sleek, they are environmentally friendly, and they’re a lot more reliable than the 30 or 40-year-old diesel engines we’re running right now. A lot of the problems that we have on the MARC today are thanks to these old diesel engines dying sometimes in mid-route. (Read Dresser's post on the delay).

Q: A Camden Line commuter recently asked me how the revenue from MARC ticket sales gets fed back into the system. Do you know if the revenue goes to a general fund or directly to MARC?
A: You’d have to ask MARC how it breaks down. It doesn’t go to a general fund; it goes to operating expenses on the MARC. I think 50% of ticket revenue makes up the service, 50% of state money makes up the service. You know the MARC system hasn’t raised fares significantly in 12 years and because of that that ratio [of ticket sales to state funding] swings more towards state money than ticket money because diesel prices are skyrocketing and the governor has mandated that MARC cannot raise its fares because he doesn’t want to be the governor that raises fares in an economically tough time.

Q: What’s your estimation of how the governor is performing on the MARC system? Do you feel like he’s responsive to the council’s concerns?
A: Yes, his administration has been extremely responsive to the council and we’ve seen a marked upturn in general morale at the MTA since he’s come into office. That said there needs to be a financial commitment from his office if the MARC system is going to grow in line with what the rest of the country is doing and he hasn’t given that yet.

Q: Do you think that there’s enough public support for the MARC? Would you like to hear more from riders?
A: Of course I want to see more, but there’s always support for train travel in general. You’re always going to find people that are open to the idea of taking a train between Baltimore and Washington or maybe Washington and Harpers Ferry if the schedule is convenient, if the price is right, and if the train is comfortable and clean enough. However among the current riders you’ll find a varying degree of activism and it really varies among the branch of the MARC lines.

Q: Can you give me a sense of how rider activism breaks down among the different MARC lines?
A: The Brunswick riders tend to be very, very active in promoting their train. They’re very grassroots. It’s the Brunswick Line that essentially was responsible for putting a fire under the Ehrlich administration and creating the council. The Brunswick Line everybody has their seats. It’s a two hour train ride. It’s down to a science. If you sit in someone else’s seat you’re going to get a look.

The Camden Line is sort of like the middle child. They’re active, but they’re quiet. They speak up when they need to, but for the most part the Camden Line is known as the friendliest of all three lines. I mean you can jump on the Camden Line and everybody is very nice.

On the Penn Line it’s essentially a zoo. On the rush hour trains its standing room only, you can have 400 to 600 standees on the train at any given time and it’s hot and humid in the summer. There are people who show up for that train a half an hour ahead of time and will force their way through to the platform, just to sit on the train for a half an hour just so they can get a seat, which to me sounds completely crazy. If you’re going to take an express train the idea is you can show up and be on the train the minimum amount of time and then be there. So I don’t understand why people do that, but the Penn Line is like that. Everybody just wants to get in and get out and as a result they’re not very active in terms of grass roots efforts. I would like to see, given that the Penn Line outweighs the other two lines in terms of patronage it would be nicer to see more action from that line. I’m saying that as a Penn Line rider too.

Q: What’s the potential for MARC expansion throughout the state, especially if riders were more active in lobbying legislators for increased service?
A: Everybody loves the train, everybody wants to see more trains and I think given the opportunity, if we had a train between Frederick and Baltimore for example you would have a brand new corridor there too. There’s a whole bunch, there’s one from Hagerstown is another big town that could use it. It would be nice- we call MARC the Maryland Commuter Train- it would be nice to include all of Maryland, so have a train that goes to Cumberland for Western Maryland commuters. Maybe out to Oakland from Cumberland. Have another train that goes from Wilmington all the way down to Ocean City. Or another train that goes from Baltimore to Annapolis- that would require brand new tracks- which other states are doing. It would take a marked shift in the mentality of your average Maryland resident, though, for that to happen. There are a lot of Not In My Back Yard NIMBY people that wouldn’t want that to happen.

*Interview conducted and edited by Julia Marsh for Stuck on MARC.

Interview: Rafi on why MARC should raise fares (Part 3)


Rafi Guroian loves trains. His Facebook profile picture (shown above) demonstrates the pure joy he feels when riding the rails. His blog is dedicated to the subject and he works for Amtrak. He is the chair of the MARC Riders’ Advisory Council.

Earlier this month I met Rafi at Union Station, where we sat down to talk about trains, particularly the MARC system. This is the last installation of my interview with Rafi.

Rafi Guroian interview, Part III: A vision for MARC’s future

Q: What’s the deal with these new engines that were supposed to come on line this spring?
A: There is a lot of red tape, unforeseen red tape from what I understand in getting the new engines on line. We desperately need them. They’re diesel engines, they move 110 miles an hour. They are sleek, they are environmentally friendly, and they’re a lot more reliable than the 30 or 40-year-old diesel engines we’re running right now. A lot of the problems that we have on the MARC today are thanks to these old diesel engines dying sometimes in mid-route. (Read Dresser's post on the delay).

Q: A Camden Line commuter recently asked me how the revenue from MARC ticket sales gets fed back into the system. Do you know if the revenue goes to a general fund or directly to MARC?
A: You’d have to ask MARC how it breaks down. It doesn’t go to a general fund; it goes to operating expenses on the MARC. I think 50% of ticket revenue makes up the service, 50% of state money makes up the service. You know the MARC system hasn’t raised fares significantly in 12 years and because of that that ratio [of ticket sales to state funding] swings more towards state money than ticket money because diesel prices are skyrocketing and the governor has mandated that MARC cannot raise its fares because he doesn’t want to be the governor that raises fares in an economically tough time.

Q: What’s your estimation of how the governor is performing on the MARC system? Do you feel like he’s responsive to the council’s concerns?
A: Yes, his administration has been extremely responsive to the council and we’ve seen a marked upturn in general morale at the MTA since he’s come into office. That said there needs to be a financial commitment from his office if the MARC system is going to grow in line with what the rest of the country is doing and he hasn’t given that yet.

Q: Do you think that there’s enough public support for the MARC? Would you like to hear more from riders?
A: Of course I want to see more, but there’s always support for train travel in general. You’re always going to find people that are open to the idea of taking a train between Baltimore and Washington or maybe Washington and Harpers Ferry if the schedule is convenient, if the price is right, and if the train is comfortable and clean enough. However among the current riders you’ll find a varying degree of activism and it really varies among the branch of the MARC lines.

Q: Can you give me a sense of how rider activism breaks down among the different MARC lines?
A: The Brunswick riders tend to be very, very active in promoting their train. They’re very grassroots. It’s the Brunswick Line that essentially was responsible for putting a fire under the Ehrlich administration and creating the council. The Brunswick Line everybody has their seats. It’s a two hour train ride. It’s down to a science. If you sit in someone else’s seat you’re going to get a look.

The Camden Line is sort of like the middle child. They’re active, but they’re quiet. They speak up when they need to, but for the most part the Camden Line is known as the friendliest of all three lines. I mean you can jump on the Camden Line and everybody is very nice.

On the Penn Line it’s essentially a zoo. On the rush hour trains its standing room only, you can have 400 to 600 standees on the train at any given time and it’s hot and humid in the summer. There are people who show up for that train a half an hour ahead of time and will force their way through to the platform, just to sit on the train for a half an hour just so they can get a seat, which to me sounds completely crazy. If you’re going to take an express train the idea is you can show up and be on the train the minimum amount of time and then be there. So I don’t understand why people do that, but the Penn Line is like that. Everybody just wants to get in and get out and as a result they’re not very active in terms of grass roots efforts. I would like to see, given that the Penn Line outweighs the other two lines in terms of patronage it would be nicer to see more action from that line. I’m saying that as a Penn Line rider too.

Q: What’s the potential for MARC expansion throughout the state, especially if riders were more active in lobbying legislators for increased service?
A: Everybody loves the train, everybody wants to see more trains and I think given the opportunity, if we had a train between Frederick and Baltimore for example you would have a brand new corridor there too. There’s a whole bunch, there’s one from Hagerstown is another big town that could use it. It would be nice- we call MARC the Maryland Commuter Train- it would be nice to include all of Maryland, so have a train that goes to Cumberland for Western Maryland commuters. Maybe out to Oakland from Cumberland. Have another train that goes from Wilmington all the way down to Ocean City. Or another train that goes from Baltimore to Annapolis- that would require brand new tracks- which other states are doing. It would take a marked shift in the mentality of your average Maryland resident, though, for that to happen. There are a lot of Not In My Back Yard NIMBY people that wouldn’t want that to happen.

*Interview conducted and edited by Julia Marsh for Stuck on MARC.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Stranded

A friend and retired MARC Penn Line commuter took this photo in 2004 after he had been unloaded from his train and left on a platform with fellow passengers to await a rescue.

I've only heard of a few stranding incidents this summer, the most egregious being back in June when passengers broke windows to escape the heat of a broken down train a few feet short of the Seabrook platform.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Interview: Rafi on the future of MARC (Part 2)


Rafi Guroian loves trains. His Facebook profile picture (shown above) demonstrates the pure joy he often feels when riding the rails. His blog is dedicated to the subject and he works for Amtrak. He is also the chair of the MARC Riders Advisory Council (MRAC), an independent organization that acts as a liaison between commuters and the MTA.

Earlier this month I met Rafi at Union Station, where we sat down to talk about trains, particularly the MARC system. I’ll be posting sections of our interview over the next week on Stuck on MARC.

Rafi Guroian interview, Part II: A voice for commuters of the future


Q:
As chair of MRAC since this spring, you’ve been working to give the council more direction so that members can both learn from the MTA about the commuter system, but also make the relationship more of a two-way street so that riders’ views are represented. How’s that process going?
A: I think more and more we’re finding that as a council we’re going to have to straddle the line between real advocacy – transportation advocacy- and also a little bit of lobbying to essentially represent the needs of the perspective MARC constituents.

Q: Lobbying Maryland politicians?
A: Yep, working with Maryland politicians mainly and also lobbying on behalf of the constituents to the politicians and to the MTA and consequently to the governor for added service. Right now the Maryland 35-year rail plan is stalled and even when it wasn’t stalled it was not as ambitious as a lot of people on the council thought it should have been. When you compare it to what’s going on in the rest of the country in rail expansion, it was almost a little embarrassing that we were only talking about extensions, a few miles, and we weren’t talking about any new lines at all. I guess we’re trying to make sure that potential MARC riders of the future, on lines that don’t exist, are represented. Because otherwise there’s no voice for them.

Q:
Back to your mission of providing the council with a forward looking mission, I understand that one of your approaches is to look at new housing developments to gauge how you could connect emerging communities with potential future rail lines?
A: I did my own little study [and] came up with essentially a best case scenario for 35 years from now what Maryland could have if Maryland were to adopt a very pro-rail strategy like you see in Illinois or Missouri or California or Virginia for that matter.

Q: I lost my $175 monthly MARC ticket a few months ago and I was enraged when I found out that it’s non-refundable. Has the council brought up this issue with MTA?
A: We as a council have to pick our fights. We’re pushing harder for what we think is the future of ticketing and that’s essentially a proof of payment system similar to the SmarTrip you use on the Metro. We would like to see the state of Maryland move to that. This is a major investment in infrastructure because you have different stations in different areas of the state with completely different scenarios where every station would be a customization job and it’s very, very cost intensive to do that. But it’s been done. It’s been done in California. The Caltrain uses it and it’s been very effective.

Q: I read that the stimulus funding for MARC will go toward a number of surface improvements like replacing the PA system, adding LED lighting, etc. Is anything in the works?
A: Most of it’s going to station improvements. And it’s stuff that you’ll notice, but it’s not huge. No new structures or anything. You’re looking at repairing platforms and repairing lighting, putting in a better messaging system. It’s not anything on the scale of brand new trains coming on line or anything like that.

Q: When I was listening to Obama and Biden tout the high speed rail portion of stimulus money I wondered why they aren’t supporting commuter rails since it’s a very middle class initiative and enjoys increasing ridership.
A: You’ll have to ask them, but I can tell you that any money that goes to high speed rail is almost certainly going to benefit commuter rail that exists or may exist because it’s going to piggyback on that infrastructure. I think your money is better spent on inner city passenger rail improvements, because not only will you cover Amtrak services, but any commuter services that exist are going to be able to run at faster speed. If they don’t exist the environment may be created where they’re realistic where they weren’t before.

Q: So you’re optimistic about a potential piggyback?
A: Yeah. My worry is there’s not enough money. It’s like throwing a little piece of meat into a piranha tank and everybody wants it.

...Tomorrow I’ll post the section of our interview where Rafi talks about his views on Gov. O'Malley's handling of the MTA and what may happen if you take a regular Brunswick rider’s seat.

*Interview conducted and edited by Julia Marsh for Stuck on MARC.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Interview: Rafi, your man on MRAC (Part 1)




Rafi Guroian loves trains. His Facebook profile picture (shown above) demonstrates the pure joy he often feels when riding the rails. His blog is dedicated to the subject and he works for Amtrak. He is also the chair of the MARC Riders Advisory Council (MRAC), an independent organization that acts as a liaison between commuters and the MTA.

Earlier this month I met Rafi at Union Station, where we sat down to talk about trains, particularly the MARC system. I’ll be posting sections of our interview over the next week on Stuck on MARC.

Rafi Guroian interview, Part I: Meet Rafi


Q: Let’s start off by talking about how you got involved in the advisory council. How long you’ve been with the council?
A: Well, some time ago, I guess about three years ago there was a plan to close four stations in the MARC system and there was a grassroots effort to prevent that closing and the end result of that effort was the council, in essence. There was a call for applications that went out and I just filled out an application and got a call and so I was one of the first members of the council.

Q: When did you take the controls as chair of MRAC?
A: I was just elected this last spring so I have another couple of years.

Q:
How long have you been riding MARC?
A: I’ve been riding MARC since- regularly since the fall of 2004- so it’s been awhile.

Q: Do you see yourself as passionate about public transportation?
A: Yeah. Although [laughs] within reason. I’ll take the train if I can. I’d much rather take the train than drive to Washington every day. Driving you get frustrated, you know, you can’t sit and read, you can’t sleep, you can’t watch DVDs. I find that I’m able to sustain the commute to Washington for a lot longer and now it’s going on five years. If I’d been driving, I probably wouldn’t have lasted two.

Q: What do you do on the train?
A: Usually I answer emails and play games on my iPhone.

Q:
What games do you play?
A: Right now pinball games but I’m an old adventure gamer from the 1990s, so I have a bunch of you know, 'Monkey Island' and stuff like that. They’ve got them on the iPhone now. So I do that. I’ve worked my way through I think every 'Star Trek' series except the original. I do a lot of Netflix. Netlix is the reason I’m able to get through the day sometimes.

...Check back later this week for more on Rafi and MRAC including his views on Gov. O'Malley's handling of the MTA, how to tell a Brunswick rider from a Penn commuter, and why he's optimistic that high speed rail expansion will benefit MARC.

*Interview conducted and edited by Julia Marsh for Stuck on MARC.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Stimulus $$$ for MARC


The Baltimore Business Journal has a fairly detailed breakdown of how State officials plan to use $360 million in stimulus funds to update MARC and Amtrak systems throughout Maryland. (The article is speculative- "if Maryland is awarded the funds"; though it doesn't explain the approval process. Any stimulus nerds out there feel free to post an explanation of the process.) By my rough estimate about half of that money, or $134.3 million will benefit MARC.

MARC's Brunswick Line will be the most direct beneficiary of the funds, according to the BBJ:

"$18.3 million for MARC Brunswick Line signaling improvements. The funding would update railway signaling between Silver Spring and Brunswick for expanded capacity and would improve service reliability on the CSXT Metropolitan Subdivision, serving intercity passenger rail, MARC and freight trains. More indirectly, the funds ($36m) will make your MARC commute less painful by relieving congestion at Union Station, which often account for delays at the end of the work day."

Many of the earmarks are forward-thinking, an element that would please Rafi Guroian, the chairman of MRAC (short for MARC Riders' Advisory Council.) During an interview at Union Station a few weeks ago, Rafi explained his vision for the council: "I guess we're trying to make sure that potential MARC riders of the future, on lines that don't exist are represented. Because otherwise there's no voice for them." While the state's Dept. of Transportation is not proposing studies for new lines per se, it has asked for about $100 million for track expansion and improving safety and capacity on the rails.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Penn Line mess: 1 train disabled, 2 running late

If you're headed home on the MARC's Penn Line tonight, you may want to consider other options. In this heat, one Penn Line train is disabled and at least two others are running about 30 minutes late.

Here are the latest notices from MARC:
  • Penn: Marc 428 is stopped N of Seabrook with a mechanical problem, crew attempting to correct. August 20, 2009 4:38 PM
  • Penn: Marc 428 to transfer psxs to Marc 530, expect 45-60 minute delay for Marc 428 psxs to BWI. August 20, 2009 4:43 PM
  • Penn: Marc 530 will be operating approx 25-35 mins late to Bowie due assisting disabled Marc 428. August 20, 2009 4:45 PM
  • Penn: Due to mechanical problems on Marc 428, Marc 450 (510p WAS Dp) has been cancelled to rescue Marc 428. August 20, 2009 5:04 PM
Judging from past experience, my guess is there will be delays until at least 7:00 p.m. tonight on the Penn Line.

Frustrated with MARC delays? Voice your concerns to the MARC Riders' Advisory Council, which is meeting until 7:15 tonight at the Hall of States on 400 N. Captiol St. NW, D.C. The meeting, open to the public, will be held on the second floor of the hall.




Riders' council to meet today in D.C.

MARC Commuters: The MARC Riders Advisory Council will be holding its monthly meeting today from 4:30 PM to 6:00 PM at the Hall of States building located at 400 N Capitol St NW, Washington, DC (2nd floor).

The rider-governed council will be addressing service issues including an update of ongoing MARC-related infrastructure projects.

Members of the public are welcome to attend.

August 20, 2009 8:28 AM

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Attitude from Penn conductor on lack of Quiet Car


At least once a week I work late and take the 9:00 p.m. Penn Line train home to Baltimore from D.C.

I've wondered for awhile why that later train has no designated 'Quiet Car.' I often read or work on my commute and I cherish the serenity of the Quiet Car.

I asked the female conductor tonight why is there no Quiet Car for train #544?

"There isn't one," she snapped.

I repeated, "I know, why isn't there one?"

She shot me a look as if to say: 'Who are you asking me questions?' And then replied: "Because there isn't one on this train" and turned her back on me.

Ok. Guess I'll have to call customer service tomorrow for an answer.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

And the domino effect continues...


With delays stretching late into the night yesterday, MARC's performance today seems only slighty better.

Before 9:00 a.m., the Penn Line canceled one train and experienced delays on three more, attributing the problems to the tardiness of earlier trains. Seems like when these delays begin to mount MARC should have a better game plan to get the schedule back on track.

I'm meeting with the chair of MARC's Riders' Advisory Council (MRAC) today to talk about its advocacy work on behalf of commuters. Email me questions you have for the chair before 1:30 p.m. today: stuckonmarc@gmail.com. I'll post our interview here in the coming days.
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Monday, August 10, 2009

Blank schedule screens and tardy service alerts leave passengers in the lurch

When I arrived at Union Station around 6:30 tonight to catch my 6:40 Penn Line train home to Baltimore the computer screens displaying arrival and departure times inside the station and out on the platform were blank.

I checked my Blackberry and the lastest service alert said that Penn's 6:05 was ten minutes late, but word of mouth concluded that the train would be canceled. No MARC officials were around so I hedged my bets and took the 6:43 Camden instead.

Good thing as I'm just now being informed via email that the situation is totally ?+"*#:

- At 6:37 I received an alert that the 6:05 was cancelled

- At 6:51 I learned that the 6:40 was running 30 minutes behind

- At 7:23 I discovered that 5:55 was taken out of service.


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Worst day of the year?

Judging by the crowds at Penn and Unions stations in the a.m. and p.m., my inbox full of service alerts, and the cussing of frustrated passengers I'd venture that Monday, August 10 may go down in transit history as the worst for MARC system performance in 2009.

Everything from heat delays to overcrowded trains and mechanical failures plagued the system today. The delays hit all three lines, causing a domino effect of backups resulting in wait times of up to 75 minutes. The bizarro prize for a delay goes to the Brunswick Line where MARC officials said a car was blocking the tracks.

If you take the Camden Line, bring your concerns to MARC managers, who will be meeting riders this Thursday, August 13 at Muirkirk Station between 4:00 and 7:15 p.m.

Here's a rundown of service alerts that piled up in my inbox as of around 7:00 p.m. tonight-

Penn MARC 513 has been cancelled between Perryville and Baltimore due to mechanical problems.The next available southbound train will be Amtrak train #151.MARC 513 will operate as normal from Baltimore to Washington.
August 10, 2009 5:48 AM

Penn MARC 509 is operating approx. 15-20 minutes late approaching Bowie due to mechanical problems. Updates will follow.
August 10, 2009 7:15 AM

MARC 408 enroute to Baltimore expected to operate 20 to 25 minutes late leaving Washington. Updates to follow.
August 10, 2009 7:53 AM

MARC 513 operating 25 minutes late leaving Baltimore due to mechanical problems. MARC 415 operating ahead.
August 10, 2009 7:55 AM

Brunswick/Camden: CSX has issued heat orders for this afternoon, expect 10-15 mins delays.
August 10, 2009 11:42 AM

Camden and Brunswick Line Passengers—CSX has issued heat orders for this afternoon's rush hour. Expect en route delays of 5-15 minutes on all trains. We regret any inconvenience.
August 10, 2009 12:00 PM

Penn: Marc 428 (415p WAS Dp) is expected to depart WASH 10-15 mins late due to adding locomotive.
August 10, 2009 4:03 PM

Bruns: Marc 873 is operating 10-15 mins late approaching Washington Grove.
August 10, 2009 4:18 PM

Train 428 due out of Washington 4:15 pm will be operating 35 - 40 minutes late.
August 10, 2009 4:48 PM

Penn: Marc 439 (525p BAL Dp) has been cancelled due to late equipment, the next available southbound MARC train will be Marc 441 (625p BAL Dp).
August 10, 2009 4:55 PM

Marc 530 will be operating 10-15 mins late moving north due to a heavily loaded train account of Marc 428 running late.
August 10, 2009 4:57 PM

Marc 893 is approaching Kensington operating approx 18 mins late due to heat orders.
August 10, 2009 5:55 PM

Bruns: Marc 893 is holding west of Silver Spring with a CSX track inspector operating ahead. Expect 30-40" delay.
August 10, 2009 6:04 PM

Bruns: Marc 879 is operating behind delayed Marc 893 and will be operating 20-25 mins late.
August 10, 2009 6:06 PM

Penn: Marc 440 (640p WAS Dp) is expected to depart WASH 15-20 mins late.
August 10, 2009 6:07 PM

Camden: Marc 852 (551p WAS Dp) is still in WASH adding a protective locomotive to the train set. Approx 25" late att.
August 10, 2009 6:16 PM

Penn: Marc 538 (605p WAS Dp) in WASH with mechanical techs checking locomotive. Approx 15 mins late.
August 10, 2009 6:19 PM

Penn: Marc 538 (605p WAS Dp) with serious mechanical problems with its locomotive has been cancelled at Union Station.
August 10, 2009 6:37 PM

Penn: Marc 440 (640p WAS Dp) will be departing WASH approx 25-30 mins late and will be operating northbound to Perryville due to the cancellation of Marc 538.
August 10, 2009 6:51 PM

Bruns: Marc 893 Marc 879 Marc 881 are stopped near Randolph Road with an automobile blocking the tracks.
August 10, 2009 6:54 PM

Bruns: Marc 893 is back on the move approaching Gaithersburg approx 75 mins late.
August 10, 2009 7:06 PM

Bruns: Marc 879 is operating 60-65 mins late in the Rockville area.
August 10, 2009 7:07 PM

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Yep, it's a pattern

MARC seemed to be having an above par summer this year with few delays and only one egregious incident.

Until this month. Today marked the second consecutive day of delays on the Camden and Brunswick lines because of the heat (tracks expand in high temperatures forcing the trains to travel at a slower pace). We'll give the MARC a pass on those delays because you can't control Mother Nature.

While the two less traveled lines were sluggish, the more crowded Penn line experienced up to 30 minute delays in both directions. MARC attributed the delays to "mechanical problems" and "late arriving equipment" (I've always wondered why equipment is not already self-contained on the train and often needs to be swapped out).

By the time I headed out of the office tonight my regular Penn line train- sceduled to leave Union Station at 6:40 was at least 15 minutes late- so I hopped on the Camden line's 6:43 departure and we left the station as scheduled. Heat restrictions are supposed to remain in effect until 7:00p.m. tonight so we'll see what time I arrive in Charm City, but we're speeding along so far.

More signs of a dreadful August aboard MARC: Crowded conditions due to shortage of cars on the Camden line. Where are those new trains city and state officials promised months ago?
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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Too hot, too hot, too hot for MARC...

Delays on MARC's Brunswick and Camden lines due to the heat:

"CSX has issued heat restriction orders on the Camden and Brunswick Lines today starting at noon.

August 4, 2009 9:21 AM"

Later messages informed riders that the heat has caused Camden and Brunswick trains to run between 10 and 20 minutes behind. The heat slowdown is expected to continue until 7:00 p.m. tonight.

Weather.com pegs the current DC temperature at 90 degrees , while Baltimore is 89 degrees. I hope this doesn't become a pattern for the month of August.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Dresser: Gov. to ride MARC tomorrow

Dresser at the Sun reports that Gov. Martin O'Malley will ride the MARC from New Carrolton to West Baltimore tomorrow morning to announce the long proposed Red Line that's planned to cross the city from east to west and beef up Baltimore's pathetic excuse for a subway system.

O'Malley is scheduled to make the Red Line announcement in West Baltimore around 10:15 a.m. Unless the Gov. is taking a special train a la Barack Obama he'll probably be on train #414, departing New Carrolton at 9:41 a.m. and screeching into the W.B station one minute shy of his scheduled announcement time. I've never taken #414 but my guess is there are few riders reverse commuting at that hour. I'd love to know about any interactions O'Malley has with customers or conductors on that trip and if he'll address concerns about the performance of MARC while he's busy getting his hands dirty in a new transportation project.

The Gov's press conference also explains this notice sent to West Baltimore commuters on Friday...Mr. O'Malley must be expecting a crowd.

Attention, MARC passengers who use West Baltimore Station--

On Tuesday, August 4, the row of parking adjacent to westbound Franklin Street (Route 40) will not be available. This row will be roped off late Monday night after the last train has arrived.

Please do not park in this row on Tuesday, August 4. Any cars parked in this row will be towed.

In addition, two handicap parking spaces in the first row will be roped off. Temporary replacement handicap parking will be provided in one of the other rows; please look for signage.

This is only a one day restriction; all parking will be back to normal on Wednesday. We regret any inconvenience and thank you for your patience.

July 31, 2009 11:22 AM

Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday delays...ughh!

My inbox has been pilling up with delay notices from MARC for all three train lines. This is the last thing commuters want to deal with at the end of the work week (though it probably beats Friday rush hour gridlock).

Here's what we're looking at as of about 6 p.m.:

Brunswick: Marc 424 (215p WAS DP) has departed WASH operating approx 20 mins late.
July 31, 2009 3:11 PM

Brunswick: Marc 424 (215p WAS DP) has departed WASH operating approx 20 mins late.
July 31, 2009 3:11 PM

Penn: Marc 433 (330p BAL Dp) expected to depart BALT 15-20 mins late due to late arriving equipment.
July 31, 2009 3:27 PM

Penn: Marc 433 departed BALT 33 mins late due to late equipment and Amtrak traffic in BALT.
July 31, 2009 4:07 PM

Brunswick: Marc 891 (350p WAS Dp) is operating 10-15 mins late approaching Silver Spring.
July 31, 2009 4:08 PM

Bruns: Due to a car shortage, Marc 877 is running 1 car short this afternoon. Marc 874 will be short Monday morning, 3 Aug 2009.
July 31, 2009 5:08 PM

Camden: Marc 855 is operating 20-25 mins late approaching Dorsey to due bad signals in the Camden area.
July 31, 2009 5:54 PM

Camden: Marc 848 will arrive at Camden Stn 15-20 mins late due to signal problems.
July 31, 2009 5:55 PM

Also just how vague can MARC get in its explanations for delays: "Bad signal?" " Signal problems?" "Late equipment?" I guess vagueness is preferable to no explanation.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thursday digest

The 9 p.m. from D.C. To Perryville is creeping along short of New Carrolton because of a "slow signal." The conductor finally came on the as-usual screechingly loud speakers to explain the snail's pace to the riders after so many queries from his passengers. Why does MARC seem to get more frustrating as the night drags on?

And two notices from MARC, first one on additional parking spaces at Aberdeen station and the second on cash transactions, both are pasted in full below:

Attention Aberdeen Commuters: Beginning Monday, August 3, Aberdeen commuters will have 77 additional parking spaces. The new lot is located just south of the existing parking area on the station side of the tracks at the old Hinder Lincoln/Mercury used car lot.


Attention MARC Train Commuters: Beginning Monday, August 3, 2009, MARC Train conductors will no longer accept bills larger than $20 as payment for tickets on board MARC trains.

Commuters are encouraged to use the Self-Service Ticketing (SST) Kiosks located at most stations whenever possible to purchase daily tickets as well as weekly, monthly, and Senior/disability discounted tickets. SST's accept all major credit and debit cards; cash or vouchers of any kind cannot be used.

Thank you for riding MARC Train Service.


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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

MARC Wish List

Here's my top ten MARC amenities wish list (not in any particular order):

1. Cafe car (I know it's a relatively short commute for most but many could use a snack or cocktail after 5 p.m.)
2. Exersize car (what better time for rail commuetrs to get their workout in- I envision a few elipticals and stationary bikes)
3. Partial refunds for lost monthly passes
4. Internet connection
5. Electrical outlets
6. Cleaner bathrooms
7. Less air conditioning
8. More informed personnel at the stations
9. Better communication to riders during delays
10. Weekend service

What's on your wish list?
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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Brunswick delays delay meet and greet?

Venturing an educated guess here...

Looking at alerts from MARC this afternoon, perhaps the meet and greet originally scheduled for this evening at the Gaithersburg station has been pushed back to "a future date" because of 20-50 minute delays on at least three Brunswick line trains this afternoon. MARC has notified commuters that a combination of disabled freight trains, track maintenance and downed trees are responsible for the delays. Downed trees? Does anyone remember strong winds recently?

Another question, what's the process like when MARC says that the Washington Metro will honor its tickets? In today's case, MARC has instructed stranded Brunswick riders that they can use the Red Line or Ride On to get to their destinations.

Here's the message from MARC: "Washington Metro will honor MARC tickets on the Red Line tonight. Passengers going to Kensington, Garret Park, Washington Grove, Gaithersburg, Metropolitan Grove, and Germantown should use Ride On bus service. MARC tickets are honored on Ride On. Other passengers stand by for further information; we are attempting to arrange alternate transportation."

For anyone who used the Red Line or Ride On, let Stuckonmarc know if your experience was easy, difficult, painful, confusing, etc.

The Post's Dr. Gridlock has a bit more on the Brunswick delays here.

Whatever the reason for postponing the meet and greet, MARC managers are more likely to have an unhappy crowd of customers when the powwow is rescheduled in light of today's Brunswick delays.

Brunswick meet and greet postponed

See note from MARC below:

Brunswick--We apologize for the late notice, but tonight's Meet the MARC Management at Gaithersburg is cancelled. It will be rescheduled for a future date
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Monday, July 27, 2009

Brunswick meet and greet?

Second of two chances (so far) for Brunswick riders to meet with MARC managers tomorrow, July 28, from 5:00 to 7:30 p.m. at the Gaithersburg station. (The first was last Wednesday at the Brunswick station). Not sure what these sessions entail - perhaps a fuller explanation for why two Brunswick line trains were running late this morning?- or if there will be similar meet and greets for Penn and Camden commuters later in the summer.

If you've attended a meeting in the past please post details: are the sessions a forum for venting? Do the mangers take responsibilty for system problems? What did you learn about MARC?

I'll try to catch a Penn or Camden event and report back to Stuckonmarc.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Fancy new signs at Union Station

Is this really where the system needs an upgrade?
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Inside MARC Mess at Inside Charm City

Inside Charm City's Jeff Quinton corralled the litany of this morning's delays and problems on the MARC system here. At least 16 service warnings went out this morning and that doesn't include a few other trains, which commenters said were also delayed without an explanation from MARC officials.

Hopefully this morning's MARC madness was an aberration or at least attributable to working out the kinks during the first day of a new schedule.

An MTA spokesperson would not field my question about the reason for the latest schedule change. Instead she sent me to customer information, where a very friendly customer service representative provided the most straightforward explanation yet: Amtrak. Just like when you're stalled on your morning commute in a dark tunnel until an Acela thunders by, Amtrak's responsible. The rep said that with the uptick in rail use, Amtrak regularly has to tweak its schedule to accomodate all varieties of express and nonstop trains. These changes force Amtrak's ugly stepson- MARC- to adjust accordingly. The rep lamented that in the good old days the schedule changes would happen twice annually, in line with daylight savings. With Acela's ridership up 6.5% for FY2008, schedule tweaks have also risen to three or four times a year.

Times they are a changin'

Why the schedule change I asked a uniformed personnel at Penn Station this morning. After shooting me a half annoyed, half confused look, the woman answered: "Because it's time for a change." When I pressed her for more specifics, she acted exasperated and finally answered that the new schedule was a regular, twice annual occurrence. Hmmm, I don't remember two schedule changes last year.

A more friendly MARC conductor told me that changes were due to adjustments in the schedules of a few afternoon trains that were conflicting with Amtrak.

Two very different answers...I'll try to get a MARC spokesperson on the phone this afternoon for an official explanation.