More than 10,000 rail passengers were temporarily stranded between New York and Washington yesterday after an electrical fire aboard an Amtrak locomotive in Prince George's County and downed power lines in New Jersey halted scores of trains in their tracks.
R. Clifford Black IV, a spokesman for Amtrak, said about 6,000 passengers aboard 25 Amtrak trains were delayed anywhere from several minutes to more than 2 1/2 hours in the rail passenger agency's Northeast Corridor line, which he called "the busiest piece of railroad in the Western Hemisphere."
State railroad officials estimated that six commuter trains carrying a total of about 200 Maryland Rail Commuter passengers were delayed, some of them for more than an hour, by the locomotive fire.
Several thousand New Jersey Transit rail commuters were delayed by downed wires near New Brunswick yesterday morning, Mr. Black said.
"It was a bad day on the Northeast Corridor, no question about it," he said.
State and federal rail officials agreed that things would have been a lot worse if the mishaps had not occurred on a day when many regular commuters were off for the long July 4 weekend. They also pointed out that most long-distance passengers had already arrived at their holiday destinations.
Pete Piringer, a spokesman for the Prince George's County Fire Department, said that about 8 a.m. yesterday, the engineer of Amtrak's northbound Yankee Clipper "blew a fuse or heard a transformer pop" and smelled smoke in his electric locomotive near Seabrook.
The engineer, Mr. Piringer said, headed for the community of Glenn Dale, about halfway between Seabrook and Bowie, where he knew there was a fire station next to the tracks.
By the time he pulled up to the station, smoke was pouring out of the locomotive.
As firefighters tried to locate and extinguish the stubborn electrical blaze, Mr. Piringer said, the 150 riders aboard the Yankee Clipper's 10 passenger coaches were transferred to another northbound train. MARC and Amtrak service continued on other tracks through Glenn Dale for about an hour.
But the fire continued to smolder, and rail officials shut down the power to overhead lines about 9:30 a.m. along a three- to four-mile section of track to protect firefighters, Mr. Black said.
Power to the tracks was restored at 11:33 a.m., said Robert Shreeve, a spokesman for MARC, after a Conrail diesel towed the Amtrak train to a siding in Bowie, where firefighters could make sure that the fire was out.
Mr. Black said the apparatus connecting an electric New Jersey Transit commuter train with overhead power wires somehow managed to rip out a section of those wires just south of New Brunswick at 8 a.m. The accident shut down power to three of four tracks along that stretch of the corridor.
Service was gradually restored, with repairs to the wires above the fourth track completed by 4:20 p.m. The incident delayed 14 Amtrak trains and 25 New Jersey Transit trains, he said.