Transportation has its problems no matter which way you commute

By Robert Thomson
Sunday, July 4, 2010

Two transit riders are on the bubble about whether the rails in the D.C. area are a better experience than the roads.

The first letter notes that the suburban rail passenger often comes out the loser in the Maryland Transit Administration's difficult relationship with CSX, which operates MARC's Brunswick and Camden lines, and Amtrak, operator of the Penn Line.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

MARC trains are notoriously unreliable. For me, it's about the only alternative to driving in traffic (I-270), so I have tolerated it. But as you have emphasized over the years, alternative means of commuting have to be competitive in performance and convenience before people will get off the roads and use them.

I have been taking the Brunswick Line from Point of Rocks since 1998, and it has been a frustrating and disappointing experience. Many of the delays are brought on by freight-train congestion and faulty signals that are not MARC's responsibility. But these are recurring problems that CSX seems unable to improve.

MARC needs to vastly improve its lines of communication and rapport with CSX to have any chance at improving service. Perhaps the encouragement needs to come from the top.

Until the recent flap with the Penn Line, Maryland transportation officials have ignored the problems with MARC. I wonder how many MARC commuters have abandoned MARC because of its apparent insoluble problems. I know ridership is up, but that may be only because more people are trying MARC than leaving MARC.

MARC's potential as a viable alternative to driving seems to be largely squandered. The Penn Line, the train from Baltimore, is the flagship line, and its track record is appreciably superior to the Brunswick Line's.

Amtrak may be a better caretaker than CSX. But if the Penn Line begins to encounter the intractable problems that bedevil the Brunswick and Camden lines, MARC will find itself in an untenable situation.

-- Jim Roan, Frederick

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