Service was expected to return to normal by evening rush hour today along Amtrak's main line between Baltimore and Washington. A power failure in the nation's capital this morning caused a chaotic scramble for more than 6,000 rush-
hour rail commuters and other travelers.
A spokesman for the State Railroad Administration said at least 6,000 commuters had to find alternate transportation between Baltimore and Washington following an electrical power failure in a Washington train yard.
The power failure halted the 30 northeast corridor trains that make daily runs in and out of Washington during morning rush hour, an official said.
"Those trains at that hour are unreserved for commuters and it's difficult to put a finger on how many passengers were affected," an Amtrak spokesman said.
Robert Shreeve, a spokesman for the state MARC railroad system, said that under normal conditions, more than 12,000 commuters use daily state rail service round trip be
tween Baltimore and Washington.
Shreeve said commuters who ride out of Baltimore's Penn Station, 1500 block of N. Charles St., were told that diesel-powered trains were departing from Camden Station for Washington.
He was not certain how many switched stations, but many of those who did had to fend for themselves and catch taxis or other rides to the Camden Station.
Train traffic under diesel power from Camden resumed a normal schedule about 10 a.m. after a freight train on the line near Laurel developed mechanical problems and temporarily blocked the line.
According to Shreeve, the MARC line operates 42 trains daily from Baltimore to Washington and back. The line once was exclusively a commuter line but now runs from 5:20 a.m. through 10:30 p.m.
Shreeve said the trip from Camden or Penn stations to Washington aboard the MARC trains takes 45 to 60 minutes, and costs $9 round trip compared to the speedier 35 minute ride in a Metroliner that costs $27 round trip. A monthly ticket book offered by MARC brings a round trip ride down to $2.50 daily, he said.
According to Howard Robertson, an Amtrak spokesman, an engine pulled down a 15,000-volt overhead power line in a train yard near Washington's Union Station shortly before 6 a.m. Electrical power to all trains on 9 tracks within about a mile of the downed lines was knocked out, Robertson said.
The cause of the accident is under investigation, Robertson said. He said no one was injured in the mishap. Robertson said that the line would be cleared by mid-afternoon.
Train traffic originating from northern cities like New Haven, Boston and New York was either delayed or continued through to Baltimore where the trains were held over.
At Baltimore's Penn Station, hard-pressed commuters were told about the accident and that diesel-powered trains would be departingfrom Camden Station, near the site of the new baseball stadium.
But that was no comfort to Natalie Pivar, a federal government employee who lives in Lochearn in Baltimore County and commutes daily to Washington.
When she learned of the shutdown, Pivar caught a cab to Camden Station and arrived at a ticket window there at 8:27 a.m.
She was promptly told that the last D.C.-bound train had left two minutes earlier.
"I have no choice but to go back to Penn Station and maybe catch a late train," said Pivar, obviously miffed.
"This is one of those days no one likes," she said.
John Montague, a Baltimore attorney who makes the daily commute to his job in Washington, said today's problem "puts you through changes. But on the most part, trains are dependable."
Two state Railroad Administration employees who asked not to be identified said that commuters were asked to go to Camden Station, two miles south, and catch the diesel-driven trains to New Carrollton in Prince George's County.
There, the state workers said, riders could catch the Metro subway into the capital.
But, the workers said, frustrated Amtrak customers had to find their own way from Penn Station to Camden Station. Several people interviewed today took cabs at their own expense.
There were no buses or other transportation provided to help commuters get to Camden Station, the workers and commuters said.