Congress OKs bill to end rail strike Md. rail riders find other ways to work

April 18, 1991|By Doug Birch David Michael Ettlin of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

Maryland rail commuters dodged the national railroad strike that closed two of the state's three commuter lines yesterday by switching to cars, buses and subways, leaving service on the lone operating line relatively tranquil and uncrowded.

Curtailed service by the Maryland Rail Commuter system probably caused longer queues at Shady Grove and two other suburban Washington Metro rail stops and trimmed by about 1,400 the number of people passing through Washington's Union Station, transit officials said.

But several commuters and state officials saw little evidence that yesterday's rush hours were more frustrating than normal.

"It could be a non-problem," said Steven Sklar of Mount Washington, a veteran rail commuter to Washington.

While Congress moved swiftly to end the strike, state transportation officials promised to offer extra bus service, parking and express trains from Baltimore's Pennsylvania Station to help harried riders on the MARC system for as long as the walkout lasted.

Cliff Black, an Amtrak spokesman, said the strike resulted yesterday in the cancellation of 15 long-distance passenger trains that normally run through Penn Station -- all with service on freight tracks outside the Northeast corridor.

The result was a cutoff of daily passenger service from Baltimore to Richmond and Newport News, Va.; Atlanta; Birmingham, Ala.; New Orleans; Chicago; and various points in Florida.

Unaffected, according to Mr. Black, were the approximately 60 northbound and southbound Amtrak trains with daily stops in Baltimore.

MARC's Penn Station line, which operated despite the strike, was braced to absorb an additional 2,800 riders yesterday because of the closing of the parallel Camden Station line. Special express trains ran at 6:25 a.m., 7:25 a.m., 5:25 p.m. and 5:50 p.m.

But only about 800 of the riders expected showed up, a MARC official said, leaving some cars with extra seats.

Several hundred commuters who usually ride the closed MARC Brunswick line took advantage of limited bus service to Washington Metro rail stations provided by the state, said Joseph Nessel, director of MARC's passenger services.

Susan Gainen, a Brooklyn Park resident who works in Alexandria, Va., said the strike didn't scare her but Washington's notorious traffic problems did.

"I would never drive down there if I had a choice," said Ms. Gainen, who was waiting at Baltimore-Washington International Airport's station. "You can underline it, capitalize it, put it in 22-point railroad Gothic type: NEVER!"

But many MARC riders probably decided to drive, and some may have stayed home, several state officials said.

Kathryn Lawson decided to drive yesterday after a friend called from Penn Station to warn her that the MARC platform was crowded. She headed down the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, ran into construction delays and arrived at her job at the U.S. Information Agency about 20 minutes late.

"Until the strike's over, I believe I'm going to be driving into work every day," she said. "I can't take the risk of [train] cancellations."

Mr. Sklar, a consultant employed by the American Nuclear Energy Council, had no trouble finding a seat on an Amtrak train from Penn Station to Union Station yesterday. He said the strike didn't live up to its advance billing.

"Everything was absolutely normal," he said. "Either the Camden people took their own cars or they took the shuttle buses, but they sure didn't take my space."

Rob Timm of Baltimore's Metro Traffic Control, a private traffic information service, said some traffic congestion may have been linked to the strike.

"We did notice a heavier traffic volume on I-95 and also on the Beltway," he said.

But State Highway Administration traffic officials said that if MARC commuters clogged roadways, they did not hear about it.

There were some glitches in the state's effort to cope with the strike. Among them was the cancellation of the southbound 8:05 a.m. train out of Penn Station.

Mr. Nessel said it resulted from equipment problems not related to the strike.

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