Regional Amtrak service back to normal after morning disruption

MARC trains among those affected by low-voltage issue

August 24, 2010|By Liz F. Kay and Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

Amtrak service between Washington and New York and Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pa., was back to normal for the evening rush hour Tuesday after an early-morning service disruption.

About 30 Amtrak trains in the Northeast were delayed from 11 minutes to almost two hours Tuesday because of a low-voltage problem. The disruption began shortly before 8 a.m., and power was restored about an hour later. The cause of the outage was under investigation.

The outage also disrupted MARC service on the Penn Line, which is operated by Amtrak. But MARC delays got shorter as the day went on, with 30-minute delays shortening to 15 minutes about noon, according to Maryland Transit Administration officials.

"Hopefully, rush hour will be right on time," MTA spokesman David Clark said.

Three MARC trains on the Penn Line were affected during the morning outage, said Terry Owens, an MTA spokesman. One train was at New Carrollton, and some riders might have taken the Metro, he said. According to commuter reports, rescue trains were sent to the disabled trains.

MTA contracts with Amtrak to operate the commuter service's diesel- and electric-powered trains on the Penn Line, Owens said. "Their operators are responsible for how trains move on the system," he said.

Diesel engines were able to function, but there were not enough to accommodate all of the morning traffic, Owens said.

Still, Penn Line rider Claudia Balohg said Amtrak's response Tuesday morning was an improvement over previous incidents.

"Passengers were provided with water on the trains. There were many announcements updating us on our status, and it appeared that the 'plan B' — to dispatch a diesel engine to rescue our train — was smoothly implemented," she said. "Granted, it was getting warm and uncomfortable on the trains, but with 70-degree temps outside, few were complaining, and conductors made many announcements addressed to anyone who might be suffering from asthma or similar issues who might need assistance."

But some riders noticed passengers' tempers rising as temperatures rose on the trains.

"The mood of the people got pretty ugly pretty quick," said Chris Bingel, who was aboard Penn Line Train 513 when it stopped near Seabrook. "The conductors seemed to be acting very professionally."

He said power came back on about 9:30 a.m. and that the train arrived at Union Station in Washington about 10 minutes later.

It was the second time in less than two weeks that Northeast Corridor service had been disrupted because of an Amtrak power problem, according to wire service reports.

The passenger train service occasionally experiences outages, but "what's unusual is to have one of this magnitude," said Amtrak spokeswoman Karina Romero.

The problems affected areas served by electric-powered locomotives.

"Normally, these outages will just affect a train or two," she said.

Rail traffic between Boston and Washington is all electric, and diesel trains are only used as a backup in emergencies, Romero said. South of Washington, service is all diesel.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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