New cars may ease MARC crowding

State expected to buy 13 double-deckers from Va. railroad

August 20, 2008|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Sun Reporter

The O'Malley administration plans to announce today that it has negotiated the purchase of 13 double-decker rail cars from a Virginia railroad as part of an effort to reduce crowding on the MARC system, where capacity has been strained by an influx of riders escaping high fuel prices.

The Maryland Transit Administration is scheduled to bring the almost $22 million contract with Virginia Railway Express before the Board of Public Works this morning. Approval is expected.

MTA Administrator Paul J. Wiedefeld said the passenger cars, which are similar to 50 two-level cars already operated by MARC, will likely be brought into service in November after refurbishing is complete. The new cars will increase by more than 10 percent the current fleet of 122 passenger coaches.

MARC expects more significant improvements in February after it accepts delivery of 26 new locomotives. Wiedefeld said that by striking a deal with VRE, the MARC system will be able to add even more capacity three to four years earlier than it would have if it had bought cars from a vendor.

"It's a great deal, and it's something we've been chasing after for a while," he said.

Wiedefeld said the new cars would first be put into service on the Penn Line - MARC's busiest. That line runs between Perryville and Washington via Baltimore on Amtrak's northeast corridor.

In recent months, MARC has been a victim of its own success as increasing demand has led to crowded cars. With gasoline prices hovering around $4 for much of July, MARC had its biggest month ever with more than 33,000 riders, MARC officials said.

"On selected routes we can add some coaches to a train. On other ones we're already maxed out," Wiedefeld said.

Not all of the cars will be added to trains immediately. Some will substitute for aging cars that the MTA wants to put in its shop near Martin State Airport for refurbishing.

But Wiedefeld said the new cars will provide more seats and greater comfort than the current single-level cars. He said the double-deckers provide 135 seats - with none in the middle of a row of three. Current single-level cars, which include middle seats, accommodate 107 to 121 sitting passengers, he said.

Some of those cars, Wiedefeld said, have been in operation for as much as 40 years.

The MTA said the 13 cars were purchased new by VRE in 1999 and 2000 from Kawasaki Rail Car Inc., the manufacturer of MARC's current bi-level cars.

"They're in very good shape," Wiedefeld said.

The MTA chief said the cars became available because VRE has decided to move in a different direction with the vehicles it will use on its commuter routes.

The new cars will not address MARC's recent problem of locomotives breaking down - the cause of frequent delays and cancellations in recent months.

Wiedefeld said MARC will soon get some relief as two electric locomotives that were undergoing rehabilitation are returned to service.

Gov. Martin O'Malley has made improvements on MARC a centerpiece of his transportation program, but the lengthy timeline for transit equipment purchases has meant that riders have seen few results so far.

Wiedefeld said MARC will push some of its late Penn Line trains to an earlier schedule to better meet customer demand. The last departure from Union Station to Baltimore will be at 11 p.m. rather than 11:45 p.m., and MARC will add a 10:05 p.m. train in order to close a previous two-hour gap between evening trains.

The MTA is still negotiating with Amtrak about adding weekend runs on the Penn Line and with CSX about adding midday trains to the Camden Line.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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