Extreme cold causing major Metro problems

Train capacity down as cars have been taken out of service

January 24, 2014|By Kevin Rector, The Baltimore Sun

Extreme cold temperatures in the Baltimore region overnight and into Friday morning have disrupted Metro service throughout the city and its surrounding suburbs, forcing cars out of service and decreasing the capacity of trains.

Trains are operating on normal schedules, but are arriving at stations with only four cars, instead of the normal six, officials said. The entire Metro system is being impacted.

The problems could last several days as temperatures remain low through the weekend, said Paul Shepard, a Maryland Transit Administration spokesman, on Friday morning.

"The possibility of crowding may be brought on because there are fewer cars on the rails," he said.

The powdery snow that fell earlier this week and the salt put down to help melt it caused the problems, said Paulette Austrich, a MTA spokeswoman.

"Light snow gets sucked into the propulsion cooling system, which causes problems with the electric motor, which causes shorts, and we have to pull the train for safety reasons," Austrich said. "The high salt content does the same thing."

As of Friday morning, 30 of the Metro system's 100 cars had been taken out of service because of the problem, she said. Another 20 to 25 cars were already out of service for routine maintenance, she said, leaving Metro with only about half its cars in service.

The Metro system was not alone in experiencing weather-related issues this week. On MARC trains, there were "problems with frozen switches and ice and snow build-up in the braking systems," Austrich said.

Bus passengers have experienced longer-than-usual waits this week because of diversions forced by troublesome or blocked routes.

Light rail has not been severely impacted by the weather, Austrich said.

Temperatures dropped into the single digits overnight into Friday, with wind chills between 5 and 10 degrees below zero. The National Weather Service issued a wind-chill advisory throughout the Baltimore area until noon.

Forecasters at the National Weather Service predicted a high Friday of 18 degrees, and temperatures are to remain low into the weekend.

Austrich said the problems should be resolved by next week, but she could not give a more specific time frame.

"We've got extra crews in, we have people working around the clock," she said. "They're working like crazy to get this resolved."



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