Amtrak investigates wire theft that caused delays

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 26, 2010; 5:54 PM

Amtrak police are investigating the theft of 100 feet of steel wire that delayed Amtrak and MARC Penn Line trains between Baltimore and Washington early Monday, rail officials said Tuesday.

The act of cutting the wire, which transmits signals to train engineers, activated a "track occupied light" about 6 a.m. as a safety precaution, said Barbara Petito, an Amtrak spokeswoman. The light tells engineers to stop and then proceed slowly because another train or something else might be on the tracks, she said.

Thieves have stolen copper wire from Amtrak to sell as scrap, Petito said. She said blog reports Tuesday morning that the signal problem might have been caused by an act of sabotage were wrong.

Petito said police are investigating the incident as theft and vandalism, with the "vandalism" pertaining to the cutting of the wire. The signal that slowed trains was cleared on one track at 7:44 a.m. and on the second at 8:40 a.m., Petito said.

"This, in our view, is more the work of thieves than of anyone trying to sabotage the railroad," Petito said.

Eight MARC Penn Line trains were delayed Monday morning from eight to 13 minutes each because trains traveled more slowly as police investigated near tracks between the Bowie and New Carrollton stations, said MARC spokesman Terry Owens.

Amtrak operates MARC's Penn Line trains on Amtrak-owned tracks under contract with the Maryland Transit Administration. The Penn Line connects Washington and northeastern Maryland through Baltimore.

Owens said MTA referred to the incident as a case of "malicious destruction" on its Twitter feed about noon Monday, which prompted speculation on the Web that the incident might have been sabotage.

Petito said two Amtrak trains in the Northeast Corridor were delayed.

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