Friday, June 12

Increased Transit Subsidy?

If you are a federal employee, and judging from the hits on this blog, most of you are, then you probably recently received an increase in your SmartBenefits. In most cases your increase will, in fact, cover the full cost of the MARC monthly fare and then some. That is, until the MARC-ons realize that the feds are getting more money and decided to raise the fares.

What you should do NOW (before June 17th) is update your account to reflect the new "Promise" amount that would go toward the Renewable Order for your MARC monthly pass. I just tried this and while it is ridiculously simple there are a few things to watch for.

1. Click here and log into your CD account. Set or skip the new security question option.
2. Click My Account on the left
3. Click the Renewable Order tab at the top
4. Click the tiny "edit\suspend order" button
5. Change the promise amount (DELETE the decimal and trailing zeroes. For me the amount shows $90.00. If you change it $125.00, it will think you actually mean $1,250! Just enter 125.)
6. Click the Save button at the bottom. Basta.

So now, the full amount of my purchase should be covered by the SmartBenefits. On July 1, I will add the remaining amount onto my SmarTrip Card at the Metro station.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 11

Trapped! Nightmare on Train 530

The evening commute on MARC is always a crap shoot. Commuters literally throw caution to the wind when they board the northbound trains at Union Station every evening. Some are innocents; tourists or such, who don't know what may be in store for them. But the majority are veterans who walk with a slow hesitation, knowing full well that they are about to board the train to hell. I can't explain the veterans who actually exert themselves, running to near exhaustion (especially the asthmatics!) to catch the train.

Monday night may well prove to be the loss of this innocence and stupidity. Apparently this train, even before it left Union Station, was experiencing electrical power trouble affecting the lights and, worse, the air conditioning. I'll let MTA tell the story as only they can. But link to Michael Dresser's Sun blog for some comments.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Maryland Transit Administration
Date:Tue, Jun 9, 2009 at 2:14 PM
Subject: MTA: June 9, 2009 2:12 PM
June 9, 2009 2:12 PM

To Our Penn Line Passengers:
We sincerely apologize for yesterday’s mechanical breakdown on train 530 near the Seabrook station. As those of you on the train know all too well, train 530 became disabled shortly after departing New Carrollton. Not only was the train unable to move, but the train lost all lighting and air conditioning. As soon as the problem with Train 530 was reported, Amtrak sent a mechanical technician out on the next train to attempt to repair the train. The locomotive involved has been removed from service pending a thorough investigation and repairs.

The MTA contracts with Amtrak to operate the Penn Line MARC trains. The MARC operations center was notified of Train 530’s problems byAmtrak just before 5:00pm. We sent a text and email message out to all Penn Line riders at 5:01pm, with updates following.

We understand that the temperature and conditions on board train 530 quickly became unbearable. Many of you expressed frustration that several MARC trains passed train 530 without stopping. The challenge of rush hour operations is that these trains themselves are already filled to capacity themselves and cannot take on additional passengers. While the train stopped agonizingly short of the platform at Seabrook, it is not possible to unload passengers at a location that is not a station stop.

When it became clear that train 530 was not going to be able to move for a significant period of time, trains 439 and 440 were cancelled and its equipment sent non-stop from Baltimore to Seabrook to transfer passengers. While 439 was en route, the technician was able to get 530’s locomotive working, lights and air conditioning restored, and the train departed Seabrook. MARC then “uncancelledd” train 440, the 6:40pm departure from Washington.

Today, MARC management has been reviewing this incident with Amtrak. One of our primary concerns is, based upon on your e-mails to us, that the train crew did not provide updates to passengers. This is unacceptable and we have told Amtrak that we expect their employees to provide regular updates to our passengers, even when there is no new information to report. MARC’s mechanical department will also be meeting with Amtrak mechanical personnel to determine what went wrong with the locomotive.

While yesterday’s incident was, to say the least, frustrating and the temperature uncomfortable, we do need to ask one thing of our passengers. Please do not ever remove windows from a train, unless directed by a member of the train crew. Doing this makes an already difficult situation worse—once windows are removed, a train cannot proceed until the car(s) in which the windows have been removed are unoccupied and even then the train can only proceed at a significantly reduced speed. It is also extremely dangerous to exit a train through the emergency windows. In addition to the potential injury you may incur falling from the train, trains pass on parallel tracks at speeds of up to 135 miles per hour. These trains approach very quickly and quietly. Again, while we understand the conditions on board train 530, removal of windows and exiting the train is extremely dangerous and should never be done unless directed by a uniformed Amtrak/MARC employee.

We appreciate your understanding of this matter.