State officials say they will deploy a small fleet of buses, shift passenger train operations and launch a public relations offensive to reduce confusion and frustration today among the 8,000 Maryland Rail Commuter passengers who are expected to lose normal service in a national rail strike.
"We are mobilizing the entire department," O. James Lighthizer, secretary of the state Department of Transportation, said at a news conference yesterday at Penn Station. "What we believe we have is complete coverage by way of our buses to replace our trains to mitigate this strike."
The announcement came as MARC passengers began thinking about making alternative plans in advance of this morning's 12:01 a.m. strike deadline.
"I don't own a car. This [MARC] is the only way I get around. I take the MARC train pretty seriously," said Jon Woodson of Baltimore, who teaches creative writing at Howard University, as he stood inside Penn Station. The trains are already overcrowded, he said. "If they have people from the Camden line on here, it's going to be pretty much unbearable," he said.
Mr. Lighthizer said the state planned to spend about $11,000 per day to provide free shuttle bus service to MARC passengers between two Brunswick line stations and the Washington Metrorail subway system, and to provide similar shuttles between three Camden line stations and nearby stations on the Penn line.
Express MARC trains will be added -- two in the morning and two in the evening -- to the regular schedule of the Penn line, the only one of the three MARC lines expected to continue operating during a strike.
State workers were expected to show up this morning at closed stations and hand out fliers explaining alternate routes
The two MARC lines expected to close are those linking Baltimore's Camden Station and Brunswick in Frederick County with Washington's Union Station. The Brunswick line also operates some trains that serve cities in West Virginia.
Both the Camden and Brunswick lines, which together carry about 8,000 passengers a day, use equipment and employees controlled by the CSX Corp., a potential strike target.
The Penn line, which uses track and employees controlled by Amtrak and carries about 9,000 passengers a day, will continue to operate. Amtrak is not a strike target.
Some transportation officials said they expected many passengers to switch to cars -- which brought visions of traffic snarls to Montgomery County planners.
"If people follow the instructions, there should be a minimum number of traffic jams," said Mr. Lighthizer, the state transportation secretary.