The morning commute turned miserable yesterday for thousands of people who take trains to Washington after CSX Transportation's computer system went down, halting train traffic from Canada to Florida for up to six hours.
Most of the morning trains on the Maryland Rail Commuter service's Camden and Brunswick lines were canceled, and those few that ran were up to 90 minutes late. Both lines run on tracks owned and operated by CSX, a freight railroad.
CSX said a computer virus infected its network and shut down the signaling and dispatching systems at 1:15 a.m. yesterday. The signals are the lights along a track that tell train conductors if it is safe to proceed. Without them, conductors don't know what's ahead.
CSX had expected to restore its system before yesterday's morning rush. When that proved impossible, they notified commuter rail officials. MARC officials were told of the problem about 4:30 a.m. - 45 minutes before trains were scheduled to start running.
The Maryland Transit Administration was forced to cancel seven of the nine Camden Line trains, which run from Camden Yards to Washington, and five of the nine Brunswick Line trains, which run from Martinsburg, W.Va., to Washington.
The Camden and Brunswick lines usually carry about 10,000 passengers daily. Yesterday, they carried about 2,000.
The more popular Penn Line, which runs from Baltimore's Penn Station to Washington's Union Station, was not affected because it runs on Amtrak-owned tracks. But morning Penn Line trains were delayed up to 55 minutes because of locomotive problems - adding to the hassles for commuters.
"We certainly sympathize with folks who had their trips altered because of this morning's occurrences," said MTA spokesman Richard Scher.
He said MTA tried to get word out as quickly as possible through e-mail messages to riders and media announcements. He said extra buses to shuttle passengers were not available.
Virginia Railway Express, which runs between Washington and Fredericksburg and Manassas, Va., canceled four trains. And 10 Amtrak trains were delayed, including two from Richmond, Va., to New York. Amtrak's service in the Northeast corridor was not affected, said spokesman Dan Stessel.
CSX could not say how many of its freight trains were affected, but said that the railroad has about 1,000 trains on its tracks at any given time. Trains were stopped shortly after the shutdown occurred, and no trains were allowed to begin runs.
The CSX system was back online by 6:45 a.m., but at a limited capacity.
Train service was close to normal yesterday afternoon, but three MARC Brunswick Line trains were canceled because officials anticipated low ridership. The MTA expected regular service on all three MARC lines this morning.
In a statement, CSX said it "shares the frustrations of the affected passengers" and "will remain firmly committed to providing the level of service that they require."