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Maryland to overhaul schedule for its MARC Penn Line commuter trains

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 11, 2011; 10:37 PM

The Maryland Transit Administration plans to overhaul the schedule for its Penn Line trains next month, adding more trains with fewer cars to ease crowding and to reduce stress on train engines.

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Officials hope the major schedule shift will also accommodate an influx of personnel to Fort Meade and Aberdeen expected by September.

The changes to the Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) service, which are scheduled to take place March 14, will add more frequent trains with fewer cars during peak periods.

"This will minimize stress on our locomotives," MTA Chief of Staff Simon Taylor said, and reduce the time it takes to board and off-load individual trains.

But there will be a net gain of 1,000 seats between 6 and 9 a.m. and between 4 and 7 p.m., he said. There will be two additional round-trip trains in the morning and two in the afternoon. MARC operates only weekday service.

"We realized we needed more service during those hours," said John Hovatter, director of MARC train and Commuter Bus services. He said 70 percent of passengers between Baltimore and Washington travel during those periods.

Under the new plan, eight trains with six or seven rail cars each will service the Penn Line. Service is now provided by six trains with seven to nine cars each. MARC's Penn Line primarily operates between Union Station and Baltimore's Penn Station, although some trains run to Perryville.

Taylor said the changes will not require buying new rail cars.

The decision to revamp the schedule "was based on a number of factors," he said, including reducing the engine breakdowns that occurred on the Penn Line last summer.

In the most extreme incident, 1,200 riders were stranded on a hot train without air conditioning for more than two hours.

Ten people were treated for heat-related problems, and three others were taken to the hospital.

A report released in December pointed to a series of "organizational failures at multiple levels." The incident highlighted what many MARC passengers describe as deteriorating service in recent years.

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