Power outage halts NE trains

Thousands of Amtrak, MARC passengers are stuck for hours

May 26, 2006|By MICHAEL DRESSER | MICHAEL DRESSER,SUN REPORTER

Family events were missed, business meetings were canceled and weekend plans were scrambled along the Northeast Corridor yesterday morning after a power failure brought Amtrak's fleet of electric-powered trains to a halt for about three hours.

Amtrak announced at noon that power, which went out about 8 a.m., had been restored about 10:30 a.m. But by then tens of thousands of passengers - including 5,000 MARC commuters - had been inconvenienced.

For Margie and Dennis Rapport of Columbia, the delay meant missing their 30-year-old son Evan's graduation from a Ph.D program at City University of New York yesterday afternoon. They had planned to catch an Amtrak train at the BWI station at 8:30 a.m. for the 2 p.m. graduation, but by 10:45 they were making plans to return their tickets.

"We're not stuck on the train, we're stuck in the train station. That's the only positive part," said Dennis Rapport while waiting at the station at the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. "Things happen. What can you do?"

As of late yesterday, Amtrak had not announced the cause of the outage. David Hughes, Amtrak's acting president, said railroad officials were reviewing electronic logs in an attempt to determine what happened.

"It doesn't appear that there was any major physical failure, but something tripped, and there was some sequence of events and a protective system shut everything down," he said.

At least five trains were stranded underground, including one that stalled in Baltimore's B&P Tunnel, which runs under North Charles Street and Maryland Avenue just west of Penn Station.

Chief Kevin Cartwright, a spokesman for the Baltimore Fire Department, said the agency did not receive a single call - either from a stranded passenger or from Amtrak. He said fire dispatchers called Amtrak and monitored the situation by phone as a diesel engine pulled the train back into the station and passengers got off.

"Our services were not needed," he said.

The Amtrak outage affected about eight trains and 5,000 riders of the Maryland Transit Administration's MARC service.

The MTA said one MARC train was used to rescue passengers from two Amtrak trains, one that was stuck near Aberdeen and another near West Baltimore and Halethorpe.

MARC, which resumed some southbound service shortly after 10 a.m., said regular service was restored in time for last evening's commute.

Other commuter systems in Pennsylvania and New Jersey were even more severely affected. Thirteen New Jersey Transit trains were stalled on the tracks, along with 28 of Philadelphia's SEPTA trains.

The delay stranded riders at stations all along the Northeast Corridor, including at Baltimore's Penn Station and at BWI.

Latreice Branson of Columbus, Ohio, sat in the waiting room at BWI about 10:30 a.m., passing the time by sketching the faces of angry passengers in a notebook.

"It's a way to get out my aggression," said Branson, who had been waiting for a train to Philadelphia for more than two hours.

Louise Rodriquez of Centreville, Va., saw her plans to spend the weekend with friends in New York unravel. She was waiting for her husband to pick her up and then planned to try to find an affordable flight out of Dulles International Airport last night.

If she couldn't, Rodriguez said, she'd have to send her Spamalot tickets to her friends by an overnight service.

"It was a very bad experience for me," she said. "I will never, ever, ever take the train again."

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Tyeesha Dixon and Peter Hermann and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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