Amtrak unveils plan to dispatch help when MARC trains break down

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 1, 2010

A rescue locomotive will be sent immediately when MARC locomotives break down, and MARC crews will undergo training to better inform passengers of problems -- two of nine changes Amtrak has made following a June 21 breakdown that stranded 900 passengers on a sweltering Penn Line train for more than two hours, Amtrak officials announced Wednesday.

An extra diesel locomotive will be available afternoons in Washington in case it is needed to move a broken-down train, Amtrak President Joseph H. Boardman told MARC passengers at a "Meet the Managers" event at Union Station. If a MARC train breaks down and loses air conditioning or heat, the next MARC train will be canceled so that train can rescue the stranded passengers, he said.

Amtrak operates and maintains MARC's Penn Line under contract. The announcement came one day after Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverley K. Swaim-Staley called the Penn Line service "unacceptable" and demanded that Amtrak conduct a "top to bottom review" of its MARC operations.

Swaim-Staley said a Penn Line train she rode Monday overshot the Odenton station, requiring passengers to travel out of their way and catch another train back to Odenton. In the June 21 breakdown near Cheverly, 10 people were treated for heat-related symptoms, including breathing problems, after the air conditioning stopped working on a 90-degree evening.

Boardman said Amtrak police will carry water in their vehicles to give to passengers during delays in high heat, and Amtrak managers will be dispatched immediately to disabled MARC trains.

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