The day after the region's beleaguered highway system was tied into knots by the wreck of a truck loaded with explosives at Northern Virginia's notorious Mixing Bowl, the frustrations of going nowhere shifted to rail passengers.
A lightning strike yesterday at a CSX communications center in Jacksonville, Fla., halted much rail traffic dead on its tracks over a wide area, and much of that was carrying home-bound commuters in the Washington area. The stoppage started about 5:30 p.m. and lasted more than three hours in some cases. It affected about 200 trains, among them those of the Virginia Railway Express, commuter line and Maryland Rail Commuter service.
Twenty-seven of the trains carried passengers, but 25 of those were in the Washington region. Eight were MARC trains, eight were VRE and nine were run by Amtrak (although Metroliner service was not affected). MARC spokesman Anthony Brown said that, in addition to the eight trains on his line stranded en route, seven or so were prevented from leaving stations. Buses were provided for some rail commuters.
One VRE train was stranded for more than three hours with about 200 passengers. Seven VRE trains were stranded for up to 40 minutes, then proceeded to the Springfield-Franconia station, where passengers boarded buses, said Matt Benka, VRE spokesman. Many MARC and Amtrak passengers also were able to board buses.
Trains also were affected in Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and the Kentucky-West Virginia coal mining region, CSX spokesman Adam Hollingsworth said.
Darrell Cooper, a General Services Administration employee who was riding VRE from Crystal City to Fredericksburg, reported from a cellular phone that he was stuck aboard for more than three hours before motion resumed. He described his fellow passengers as "tired . . . hungry. They want to go home." Well after 8:30 p.m., when the train started up again, everyone was cheering and clapping, he said.
The lightning strike that knocked out the CSX railroad's radio and signal center in Jacksonville automatically caused lights on tracks to turn red, a signal for conductors to stop the trains. The system was up and running after 8:30 p.m., officials said.
As a result of yesterday's mishap, VRE said it was running a limited morning schedule as follows: Fredericksburg line: trains 302, 306 and 310; and Manassas line: trains 322, 326, 330 and 332.