Pimlico and BGE checking power lines

Both want to prevent repeat of 1998 outage

May 12, 1999|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

To prevent a power outage of the kind that threw the annual Preakness race into darkness last year, the owners of the Pimlico Race Course in Northwest Baltimore have installed five backup generators in tractor-trailers around the park.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. has also spent more than a million dollars to replace three electrical transformers, a switching device and underground cable to prevent a recurrence of last year's blackout, according to utility and race officials.

The running of the 124th Preakness Stakes will take place Saturday. Gates open at 8: 30 a.m. and the first race will be at 10: 45 a.m.

The utility held a rehearsal with the new equipment Saturday and discovered that the replacement transformers worked perfectly, said Johnny Magwood, a manager with the electric utility who helped investigate last year's power outage.

"We have a high level of confidence that such an incident will not happen again Saturday," said Magwood. "We are very comfortable with how our systems performed."

During the running of the 123rd Preakness Stakes last May, a record crowd of 91,222 had their excitement dimmed by a blackout that killed the air conditioning on a hot day and prevented spectators from betting an estimated $2 million.

About 500 homes near the track also lost power as temperatures reached a record 92 degrees.

The aging track, which relies on the internationally-known thoroughbred race for much of its annual profits, lost at least $200,000, race officials said.

The power outage in the grandstands created chaos at the betting windows, with some gamblers waiting at dark betting computers with hopes that power would be restored. Others lined up 40-deep at the handful of windows where bets were being accepted.

Robert DiPietro, executive vice president of the Maryland Jockey Club, said that he does not blame BGE or anyone else for the power outage May 16.

"You are disappointed that something like that happened, but our top priority was to make sure that it didn't happen this year," said DiPietro. "And I think that BG&E has done a spectacular job of taking care of that."

Contributing to the blackout last year was unexpected heat, which created a tremendous demand on the air-conditioning system, Magwood said yesterday.

The extra load caused a failure in a 1,500 kilowatt transformer in a six-by-eight foot green metal box behind the grandstands. The jacket around a foot-long piece of equipment that connects an underground cable to the transformer melted, Magwood said.

Pub Date: 5/12/99

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