Officials struggle to explain MARC train breakdown
Amtrak president apologizes as investigation is promised
But even as Amtrak President Joseph Boardman and MTA chief Ralign T. Wells delivered apologies to MARC riders, problems continued.
Amtrak, which owns the Penn Line and staffs the trains, reported a 24-minute power loss at Washington's Union Station, causing a delay to all its trains leaving the capital Tuesday evening. The MTA, meanwhile, reported that a MARC train on the Penn Line had developed a locomotive problem and was returning to Washington.
Furious passengers on the train that broke down Monday described a scene in which conductors failed to provide timely information and insisted on closing doors that provided the only relief from temperatures exceeding 100 degrees.
"They absolutely lost control of the situation," said Tim Kelly of Arbutus, a 10-year MARC rider who called the experience "the worst I've ever seen" on the commuter railroad.
Passenger Bill Rowe of Towson said he estimated the temperature in the car "conservatively" at 110 degrees. "Frankly, if someone left their dog locked up in a car for 1 1/2 hours like this, they would be arrested," he said.
Wells said he did not know why the breakdown occurred — and could not guarantee it wouldn't happen again. He said he spoke with Boardman Tuesday morning to express his concern about how the incident was handled.
Wells said the MTA, Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration will launch a formal investigation.
"I can guarantee you that a full review of all operations, communications and technical issues will begin immediately to identify the cause of this evening's problem and improve the response of both Amtrak and MARC in the future," Wells said.
Later Tuesday, Boardman released a statement apologizing for "unacceptable conditions and inconveniences."
"We take this matter very seriously and take responsibility for this failure," he said. "We will identify the cause or causes of yesterday's disruption, and we will take corrective action. We value our MARC passengers and we will take steps to improve the service."
In a statement posted online, Wells promised changes to address the problems that cropped up Monday. He said the MTA is considering providing a back-up locomotive on every Penn Line train and is reviewing policies for allowing passengers to leave a disabled train and for stocking bottled water on trains.
Wells said the eight-car Train 538, pulled by a 10-year-old HHP electric engine, broke down for undetermined reasons shortly after leaving Washington for Perryville. That left the cars without air conditioning in 90-degree temperatures.
"We don't know exactly why it failed," Wells said. It was not clear Tuesday, he said, whether the problem might have been with the power lines or the engine itself.
The train stopped just short of New Carrollton on the Penn Line.
MTA spokesman Terry Owens, passing on information he said he had been given by operations officials, initially said that train officials gave out water on some cars. "We carry water on trains in the summer and if there is an issue we hand water out."
But several passengers said no water was distributed until emergency medical technicians — summoned when passengers called 911 on their cell phones — arrived almost two hours into the ordeal.
Owens said the accuracy of that information about water distribution is something that MARC is investigating.
Passenger Harry Kaplan of Owings Mills said he faults the conductors for their handling of the problem.
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