Greater Greater Washington

MARC makes improvements, plans even more

MARC riders will see a new Halethorpe station on the Penn Line in June and the first of 54 new bi-level train cars by the end of the year.


MARC train at Halethorpe. Photo by Skabat169 on Flickr.

MTA also has a wish list of projects to fund with money from Maryland's recently-passed gas tax increase. David Johnson, chief customer communications officer for the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA), briefed the MARC Riders' Advisory Council last Thursday.

MTA would like to overhaul the Penn Line station at West Baltimore, similar to the Halethorpe overhaul. This would be in conjunction with the future Baltimore Red Line. Other items on the wish list include 10 new diesel locomotives and weekend service on the Penn Line.

At Halethorpe, where MTA reported 1,209 boardings on March 13, 2013, the southbound high platform is complete and will open this week, Johnson said. The high platform will reduce the time each train spends at the station (dwell time), because the floor of the train cars will be at the same level as the platform. Passengers will no longer have to use stairs to get on and off the train. In addition, passengers will be able to use all doors of the train to get on and off.

However, Johnson said that MTA does not expect to adjust the Penn Line schedule to account for the reduced dwell time until the northbound high platform and the footbridge connecting the two platforms are completed in June.

When the overhaul is finished, people who use wheelchairs will be able to ride the train from Halethorpe, because of the high platforms and elevators in the new bridge. All stations on the Penn Line between Washington Union Station and Baltimore Penn Station will be wheelchair-accessible, except West Baltimore.

After this, the next step at Halethorpe might be an $18 million parking garage, said Johnson. Many people who drive to the station park their cars on Southwestern Boulevard (US Route 1) and on nearby neighborhood streets.

As for the 54 new bi-level cars, MTA expects the first of the cars to be in service in November. The cars were delayed by a strike at the factory in Quebec and Federal Railroad Administration-required modifications to the brake rotors. They will be certified to run at 90 mph, but MTA would like to get them certified to run at 125 mph.

MTA will use the first cars to replace the 4 40-year-old Pullman gallery cars currently in service on the Brunswick Line. In the meantime, MTA plans a light overhaul of the air conditioning systems on the gallery cars, to get them through one more summer.

Miriam Schoenbaum lives in Montgomery County's Agricultural Reserve. She serves on the MARC Riders' Advisory Council and is a member of the Action Committee for Transit

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On the one hand, this is great news. High level platforms are good - that's a move toward transit-level service, speedier boarding/alighting, etc.

On the other, the Penn Line could be making great use of EMUs with better acceleration and providing quicker service, rather than loco-hauled trains. The picture at the top makes it even worse - we're using a diesel loco on the electrified Penn line tracks.

by Alex B. on Apr 22, 2013 2:50 pm • linkreport

I would love to see some Saturday service.

by Capt. Hilts on Apr 22, 2013 3:14 pm • linkreport

The Halethorpe station really should have been built slightly further south so that an interchange station with the Camden line at St Denis could have been eventually implemented.

The land there is ripe for transit oriented development if Baltimore's plans to have metro like service on the Penn line after the B&P tunnel is opened up.

by Richard Bourne on Apr 22, 2013 3:29 pm • linkreport

Is there any move toward weekend service? I know that scheduling with freight traffic is an issue. It would definitely make visiting Baltimore a more appealing option on the weekends.

by Alan B. on Apr 22, 2013 3:32 pm • linkreport

How many of the other MARC Penn Line stations between DC and Baltimore still have low level platforms? I'll have to check.

The September 2007 Growth & Investment plan presentation is somewhat sad to read. Many of the 2010 upgrades have not been done (weekend Penn Line service the big one) and work is nowhere close to starting on many of the planned 2015 upgrades. Adding the 4th track with 2 center platforms & a rebuilt station at BWI is an expensive project, which is going to need federal funding for much of the cost. The 2010 completion date for Paul Sarbanes Silver Spring transit center is going to be missed by that much.

I think that once the Baltimore Red Line is completed along with 7 day a week MARC service, there will be a big jump in evening and weekend travel from DC to downtown Baltimore and the Inner Harbor along with intercity commuter travel. Even with the increased revenue from the gas tax increase, it will be a challenge for MDOT to prioritize spending between the Red Line, Purple Line, MARC projects over the next 8-10 years.

by AlanF on Apr 22, 2013 3:48 pm • linkreport

@AlanF

All the Penn Line stations except West Baltimore and half of Halethorpe have high platforms.

All Camden Line stations except Camden have low platforms.

by Richard Bourne on Apr 22, 2013 3:51 pm • linkreport

@AlanF

Only West Baltimore and Halethorpe NB still have low-platforms on the Penn Line.

by Mike B on Apr 22, 2013 3:51 pm • linkreport

@Alex B, MARC has only 1 electrified line out of 3. EMU trainsets would be limited to the Penn Line/NEC and would limit operational flexibility and maintenance savings from having a more standardized fleet. Amtrak may go with EMUs for the Acela II trainsets, but they face similar constraints on a Amfleet I replacement single level fleet. They need equipment that can operate on and off of the NEC with locomotive changes at DC, Philly (Pennsylvanian to Pittsburgh), and New Haven. Unless the CSX lines are electrified (not in the plans), MARC would have a small Penn Line only EMU fleet. Besides, MARC & Amtrak wants rolling stock that can operate at 125 mph which is a more specialized EMU type.

by AlanF on Apr 22, 2013 4:01 pm • linkreport

On the other, the Penn Line could be making great use of EMUs with better acceleration and providing quicker service, rather than loco-hauled trains. The picture at the top makes it even worse - we're using a diesel loco on the electrified Penn line tracks.

Ideally I agree that having EMUs would provide a major upgrade for MARC, particularly if the Penn Line were upgraded to 'near-RER' style regional rail with weekend service between Baltimore and DC. However, only the Penn Line is electrified, so MARC can't share equipment/costs among the Camden, Brunswick, and Penn lines, which I assume is part of the reason they want diesel units. EMUs might save some money due to better performance, and possibly energy costs, but being able to share equipment across all lines may provide even more savings in the shorter run. And if MARC can ever find the money to achieve that RER-type 7-day service with new EMUs, they can shift the diesels over to the Brunswick and Camden.

by Jonathan P on Apr 22, 2013 4:02 pm • linkreport

Greenbelt has high platforms on the Camden Line too, necessitating the pocket tracks to service it.

by Adam P. on Apr 22, 2013 4:04 pm • linkreport

Weekend or reverse-commute trains to Martinsburg would be great for tourism (Harper's Ferry in particular) and over time could help disperse some of the concentration of core-oriented transportation.

But hey, $18 Million for a parking garage! That's a bad investment. If it's only slightly unmanageable now, then the thing to do is set a market price for that curbside parking on Route 1, create a permit for it, and cite the scofflaws. Then re-invest the money in the neighborhood affected (along with giving neighbors a free on-street permit) and you solve the problem without capital-intensive construction. This is a great example of where a program and economic strategy can solve the problem rather than concrete and steel.

by Will on Apr 22, 2013 4:09 pm • linkreport

@Alan B.

EMUs arent the answer as the MARC needs the flexibility to move it's stock between its 3 lines of which only 1 is electrified. One day MARC will also through run into VA, which also doenst have electrification.

Right now MARC seems to use about 80% electric locos on the Penn line, subbing in diesel to add capacity. Getting that closer to 100% would help, as the electric locos are cleaner and faster

If you need more acceleration go with a pair of locos instead of 1. On super long trains go with 3. EMU or DMU just give you more passengers per train length, which isnt a problem for MARC.

by Richard Bourne on Apr 22, 2013 4:20 pm • linkreport

MARC has only 1 electrified line out of 3.

True, but that line provides the majority of service and the majority of riders. It already has infrastructure in place for a better level of service, so why not provide it?

EMU trainsets would be limited to the Penn Line/NEC and would limit operational flexibility and maintenance savings from having a more standardized fleet.

The goal should be to expand electrification because of the serious operational benefits it provides.

Amtrak may go with EMUs for the Acela II trainsets, but they face similar constraints on a Amfleet I replacement single level fleet. They need equipment that can operate on and off of the NEC with locomotive changes at DC, Philly (Pennsylvanian to Pittsburgh), and New Haven.

This is why we can't have nice things.

Frankly, Amtrak does not need that much equipment flexibility. The Acelas are not EMUs, but they're locked-in trainsets anyway - no different from EMUs in terms of NEC reliance.

MARC need not build something new, as both Metro North and SEPTA have recent EMU trains they could buy off the shelf.

Unless the CSX lines are electrified (not in the plans), MARC would have a small Penn Line only EMU fleet. Besides, MARC & Amtrak wants rolling stock that can operate at 125 mph which is a more specialized EMU type.

First, electrification of the entire DC commuter rail network should be in the plans. And having a small Penn-line only fleet isn't a bad thing, as you'd then be operating the Penn line more like a transit line and less like a commuter rail line.

Second, 125mph operation is not a problem - M8s can get above 100 (top out at 108, IIRC) and the acceleration difference can easily make up the time savings.

Third, why is MARC then running diesel locos on the Penn Line if they're concerened about getting trains up to 125?

by Alex B. on Apr 22, 2013 4:39 pm • linkreport

Any news on service into Delaware?

by Steve S. on Apr 22, 2013 4:48 pm • linkreport

@ Will, I think the construction of a parking garage is not only to get cars out of the neighborhood streets, but to increase the parking capacity of the station. Making permits and ticketing cars will only serve to reduce the capacity of the parking at Halethorp, not increase it.

by Gull on Apr 22, 2013 4:51 pm • linkreport

@ Steve
I think Septa would need to get into talks with MARC about connecting somewhere between Perryville and Newark. I'm sure Amtrak would hate the idea as it would destroy their fare structure.

by Richard Bourne on Apr 22, 2013 5:09 pm • linkreport

I don't think it would be a big deal. SEPTA and NJT already 'touch' at Trenton.

by Alex B. on Apr 22, 2013 5:28 pm • linkreport

@Steve S, Delaware has the funding to build a new station at Newark, DE. A 3rd track project under construction south of the Wilmington station will allow increased SEPTA service to Newark DE. MARC has long range plans to extend service to Newark DE to meet up with SEPTA, but that will be dependent on capacity expansion north of Aberdeen (or Martin Airport really) which are tied into NEC improvement projects. Such as replacing the Susquehanna River bridge with a 4 track bridge or two 2 track bridges. Which could take many years.

As for Amtrak hating the idea, no it would not hurt the Amtrak fare structure. People can and do take SEPTA & NJ Transit between Philly and NYC. Or Metro-North from New Haven to NYC for example. They have a choice of a slower commuter train and less comfortable seats with lower tickets prices or to take Amtrak with more comfortable seats and faster trip times at a higher price. Amtrak NEC business in CT, NJ, and Philly is doing just fine.

by AlanF on Apr 22, 2013 5:29 pm • linkreport

@AlanF and AlexB
I was not aware of the conductivity between NJ trans and Septa although I guess I should have known better. I just always though it was strange that Amtrak charges the same fares to Baltimore and Washington to any other point on the NE corridor. This is presumably because no one takes Amtrak during the week day when MARC does the same route at almost the same speed for half(sometimes even less) the price.

by Richard Bourne on Apr 22, 2013 5:53 pm • linkreport

What is MARC doing about bike access?

by Virginia Bicycling Federation on Apr 22, 2013 5:55 pm • linkreport

@Richard Bourne, if you look at the SEPTA schedule for the Trenton Line, it includes the schedule for connecting NJ Transit trains at Trenton. NJ Transit and SEPTA have long coordinated their schedules for transfers at Trenton. If MARC were to extend to Newark DE, I expect MARC and SEPTA would do the same, but with a much lower frequency of connecting service.

As for Amtrak fares, Baltimore to NYC fares are lower than Washington to NYC on weekdays; they are not the same. I have seen people take Amtrak between Baltimore and DC, even on weekdays when MARC service is available. Even Baltimore to BWI. If someone is carrying luggage, they may choose Amtrak for the space and knowledge that seats will be available. Depends on how price sensitive they are. If you are on an expense account or don't care about the extra bucks, then maybe you take an Amtrak Regional from Baltimore to DC. Or even the Acela if the faster trip time and the Acela is worth it to you.

by AlanF on Apr 22, 2013 6:35 pm • linkreport

Do the MTA's plans say anything about reverse-peak trains on the Brunswick Line? (I'm not going to hold my breath for off-peak Brunswick service) Or that additional Brunswick round trip that was mentioned a while back (that better go to Frederick)?

Weekend Penn trains would be awesome, no doubt, but are they going to end service as early as they do now during the week? And should I assume that all we'll get is one train per hour in each direction?

by Justin..... on Apr 22, 2013 6:39 pm • linkreport

Can the Penn Line trains even make it up to 125 and stay there for any reasonable length of time before having to slow down for the next stop? I'm somewhat skeptical that any train which has to stop for New Carrollton, Seabrook, Bowie State and Odenton can manage 125 MPH at any point between Union Station and BWI. The distances just look too tight for me - and assuming that they are, in fact, too tight, investing huge money into a 125 MPH capable fleet doesn't seem like the best strategy unless you want to vastly increase the number of trains running express.

@Will And what are you going to do with the people who are currently driving to the train station, who have been overflowed out of the parking lot? If demand is overwhelming the parking lot, then building the garage is actually a good investment - paid garage parking will help recoup the capital cost of the garage, and every car in the garage is one less car being driven somewhere that mass transit already goes to. How is that a bad thing?

by Ryan on Apr 22, 2013 7:40 pm • linkreport

Weekend service would be awesome for MARC. I really think investment needs to be made on the Camden Line to make that more of a viable route for commuters, especially with its northern terminal in downtown Baltimore. Upgrading the tracks along the route, so there is more flexibility with CSX, will do a lot of good.

by cb on Apr 22, 2013 9:30 pm • linkreport

@Virginia Bicycle Federation: If and when they have weekend service, MARC officials are open to possibly allowing bikes on the trains.

A few advocates met with MARC officials on the bike issue two years ago. I never got around to preparing a post on the subject for GGW but I did take notes and circulate them to MDOT staff who attended the meeting.

by JimT on Apr 22, 2013 9:46 pm • linkreport

@Ryan:

Many of the Penn line trains skip some stops, making 125 MPH possible. Best example is the 4:20 and 5:20 "SuperExpress" trains that run nonstop from Union Station to BWI Airport.

by Ryan S on Apr 22, 2013 9:56 pm • linkreport

One issue with the track at the new NB high platform at Halethorpe is that the track speed limit is significantly lower than the other tracks. This is only a minor issue though since Amtrak never uses this track and MARC trains using it would be stopping at Halethorpe/W. Balt anyway. I hope the MTA gets around to constructing the additional BWI platform, DE extension, and Germantown parking garage soon as well.

I'm glad to hear that W. Baltimore will be upgraded as well. Every time I pass it I shake my head seeing how it's current config. is more akin to a typical bus stop than an actual train station.

I hope the "10 new diesel locomotives" was a typo and that you meant 10 new electrics. MARC needs to replace all 10 (4 AEM-7's & 6 HHP-8's) of their current electrics since all of them are unreliable, but with new electrics, not diesels (which would be limited by top speed and traction power).

RE: EMU Comments

In response to some comments that MARC should get EMU's, they would make little sense for a number of reasons:

1. They would have to be single-level since otherwise they couldn't fit into the Baltimore B&P tunnel

2. Afaik there are no EMU's with a top speed over 80-100mph. MARC regularly operates trains @125mph on the Penn Line (especially N of B'more)

3. As others have pointed out the EMU's are useless on the Brunswick and Camden Lines and would seriously hurt flexibility since MARC regularly rotates equipment between lines.

by King Terrapin on Apr 22, 2013 10:01 pm • linkreport

@Ryan S: My mistake, then. According to the schedule I was consulting ( http://mta.maryland.gov/sites/default/files/Penn_March2013_grid.pdf ) it seems as though there's one no-stop train from Washington to Baltimore, and two or three more regular express trains, but the vast majority of the roundtrips are at least scheduled to make all or most of the stops between Washington and Baltimore. I'm willing to accept that I don't have an accurate schedule, though.

@King Terrapin: With all 10 of MARC's electrics being re-skinned Amtrak locomotives I very much doubt that any more of them are in the pipeline. It makes the most economic sense to wait and jump onto the next order made by Amtrak for new locomotives and reduce their acquisition costs that way - especially since the same unreliable locomotives are unreliable for Amtrak too and that's going to force Amtrak to replace them in the (relatively) immediate term. I agree that replacing them with diesels is a horrible idea, but I disagree that MARC can't afford to wait another two or three years and set 100% electric operation on the Penn Line as a 2020 goal instead of a 2015 one.

There's also the fact of the matter that acquiring more electric locomotives or even a set of EMUs outright would force the issue of electrifying the Camden Line in a way that nothing else can. Yes, flexibility gets torpedoed in the short term (but, honestly, that's probably not as much of an issue as you might think at first considering which of the three lines sees drastically more service anyway), but the long-term benefits from continuing to drive the electrification issue are more than worth it.

And going back to my original question of whether or not Penn Line trains making every conceivable stop en route to Baltimore are even capable of reaching 125, the point I was driving at was that if you're running a local service between Washington and BWI and you know that the stop spacing on that stretch of the line is too tight to even make it up to 125, then it's okay to pick an EMU that's "only" capable of 100 MPH but has better acceleration and can spend more of its time running at 100, as opposed to a "faster" locomotive capable of hitting 125 MPH just in time to start slowing down for the next stop.

That also provides an opportunity to demonstrate where being pinned in to a certain type of rolling stock making a certain type of trip (and ONLY that type of trip) isn't necessarily all downside. An EMU obviously looks a lot different from a locomotive-hauled train, to the point where if you had two of them across a platform from each other, Joe Average could instantly determine which is which. Well, suppose that you want to run a mix of all-stop service and limited-stop service out of Baltimore. Joe Average can know that all EMUs run local and all locomotive-hauled trains run express, and so he can look at the train on the platform and know right away "oh, I want a local train, this is obviously a local."

Operational efficiency and convenience trumps operational flexibility, in my opinion.

by Ryan on Apr 23, 2013 8:56 am • linkreport

Q for Richard Bourne -- interesting point about the opportunity to connect the Penn and Camden lines, which for historical reasons (Penn = PRR; Camden = B&O) are separate.

But the only reason for the high use of the Halethorpe station is its proximity to the freeways. Residents of the immediate area likely aren't big users of the station. Mostly people come there via 695/195 park, and then ride back to other parts of Baltimore County. Mostly it's the reason that TOD at this station likely has no legs.

With regard to St. Denis, same thing. It probably has a handful of boardings/day, and lacks the proximity to freeways enjoyed by the Halethorpe station.

I wonder how valuable "TOD" is if people have little reason to use the T, except in that it may induce sorting, people moving there because of the transit proximity.

by Richard Layman on Apr 23, 2013 9:14 am • linkreport

AlanF -- I think the reason some people during the week take Amtrak instead of MARC, especially to BWI, is because they don't know the difference or even that MARC exists.

Amtrak has a national brand, and most people aren't familiar with MARC, especially if they don't live in Maryland. Yes, it's a little faster, but if you're going to the airport, it doesn't really matter.

wrt Camden line and electrification, the line has such low ridership, would electrifying make that much difference? It seems like it wouldn't be worth the cost.

Also wrt your point about the 2007 report and the failure to achieve 2010 proposed improvements, it's easy to forget that the 2008 crash killed state and local budgets in 2009 and going forward--although there are other issues.

wrt EMUs vs. diesels, I think that's a chimera. The bulk of the ridership is going to be on the Penn Line. How many diesels do they need for the other lines?

by Richard Layman on Apr 23, 2013 9:24 am • linkreport

Weekend service to Baltimore would be awesome. Long overdue.

by Ben on Apr 23, 2013 9:46 am • linkreport

@Richard Layman: Of course the Camden Line has low ridership, because it has a low number of total round-trips per day (at 9). Boost the frequency and the number of riders will go up as well.

If the 4,500 daily ridership cited in the MARC plan document is accurate, then that's about 250 boardings per train. (The Penn Line sees a little over 400 boardings per train, by comparison.) That's not breath-takingly fantastic, but it's also not BAD - especially not when you consider that ridership is surely being depressed by mostly low-boarding, slower speeds, awful frequency and being at the mercy of CSX.

by Ryan on Apr 23, 2013 9:51 am • linkreport

@ Richard Layman
TOD at Halethorpe is a long way off, but if the Baltimore regional transit plan gets anywhere(it hasn't yet) having the connection would be ideal. Further if a connection did exist it would be an ideal place to develop.

http://www.baltimorerailplan.com/linked_files/brreportfinal.pdf

Halethorpe/St Denis, and a Green + Penn Line connection at Uptown would make the future metro like service on the Penn so much more useful. This would all be held up until Amtrak gets a new route through Baltimore giving the MTA the full use of the old, slow B+P tunnel.

by Richard Bourne on Apr 23, 2013 9:52 am • linkreport

@Ryan, "jump onto the next order made by Amtrak for new locomotives and reduce their acquisition costs that way". Amtrak has placed an order for 70 ACS-64 electric locomotives from Siemens to replace all the AEM-7s and HHP-8s. There was a recent on-line report that the first unit was seen operating under wire on a 1/4 mile test track at the Siemens California plant. The first units are expected to be delivered for testing later this year.

Amtrak will be taking delivery of the ACS-64's through 2016 or 2017. MARC likely could piggy-back on that order if they choose to do so. Or MARC could lease freed-up HHP-8s from Amtrak to replace the AEM-7s, if they are willing to live with the HHP-8s as something approaching orphan product status. However, I don't recall seeing reports about whether MARC is considering replacing their electric locomotives in the near term.

by AlanF on Apr 23, 2013 9:55 am • linkreport

I think the reason some people during the week take Amtrak instead of MARC, especially to BWI, is because they don't know the difference or even that MARC exists.

Or, they know full well the difference, but don't care because they need to get to/from the Airport at a time when MARC won't cut it.

I've taken Amtrak to BWI many times, either because I needed to get to the airport on a weekend or late at night, or simply because the Amtrak trains came at a more convenient time.

wrt Camden line and electrification, the line has such low ridership, would electrifying make that much difference? It seems like it wouldn't be worth the cost.

You don't electrify just for the sake of electrification - you electrify because that's the first step to providing a much higher level of service. The goal would be to turn it into a rapid transit line using mainline rail equipment.

The Camden line has a lot of potential - it has much better transit-friendly adjacent land uses than the Penn line does, and better potential for infill stations as well.

But for all of that to work, you need a higher level of service. Electification is a key step in providing a) faster trains, b) better acceleration (making more stops feasible), and c) more efficient operations.

Paul Druce covers all of the reasons for (and the compelling logic behind) passenger electrification here: http://reasonrail.blogspot.com/2012/05/why-commuter-railroads-wont-run-diesels.html

wrt EMUs vs. diesels, I think that's a chimera. The bulk of the ridership is going to be on the Penn Line. How many diesels do they need for the other lines?

The bulk of the ridership is on the Penn Line now because it performs best. Increase the performance of the other lines and you might see that balance shift.

by Alex B. on Apr 23, 2013 10:04 am • linkreport

@AlanF: We can work with the electrics that we have today, in my opinion, but acquiring more HHP-8s is a fundamentally bad idea in the long-term even if it gets us a larger pool of electrics in the immediate term.

Jumping on the ACS-64 order is the best strategy, especially if we're going for a 2020 goal of 100% electric operation on the Penn Line. I can't imagine Amtrak not exercising whatever buy-more option exists, and MARC can move in on that second round of purchases.

by Ryan on Apr 23, 2013 10:58 am • linkreport

@ AlanF, Ryan

Adding on to Amtrak's ACS-64 order was exactly my thinking, since that's how MARC got the AEM-7's and HHP-8's in the first place.

As for acquiring Amtrak's HHP-8's, that wouldn't be a totally bad idea in the short term. Of course the problem with that is that the hot weather reliability for the motors still sucks and Amtrak won't be replacing their HHP's for a while (after they replace all the AEM-7's).

by King Terrapin on Apr 23, 2013 11:14 am • linkreport

Ok, good points about the Camden line proximity to better ridership improvement and TOD opportunities, although not so much in Baltimore County as much as "around here."

wrt AlanF.'s comments about BWI, sure, we all take Amtrak to/from BWI when MARC and/or the B30 doesn't run, but why do it any other time? Again, because people don't know what MARC is. (I used to see this all the time when I did my train commuting to Baltimore when working in Balt. County.)

Richard Bourne -- this won't help you much as it doesn't deal very much with southern Baltimore County/Howard County, but when I worked in Balt. County I circulated this around the planners there wrt the Master Plan update. Of course, none of it made it in--no transit enhancements did, other than the Red Line.

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2012/05/from-files-transit-planning-in.html

by Richard Layman on Apr 23, 2013 11:22 am • linkreport

@Richard Layman, I checked the Amtrak prices for late this afternoon for Baltimore Penn to DC Union Station. There were several Regionals available for $16. MARC costs $7. At that price differential, some will take Amtrak because of a better schedule match or they prefer the more comfortable seats. I agree that some take Amtrak because they are not familiar with MARC. If the MARC Penn Line becomes a 7 day a week regional rail service between Baltimore and DC, then I would expect MARC to carry the bulk of the DC - Baltimore train traffic.

I was responding in large part to a post that stated that no one takes Amtrak between DC and Balt on weekdays (or during the hours MARC is providing service). Not every one is 100% price driven in their choice of transportation options. But this is all a minor side item. The more significant issues include how much funding MARC will be able to get through 2020 to advance towards the 2015 & 2020 goals set back in 2007?

by AlanF on Apr 23, 2013 11:39 am • linkreport

sure, we all take Amtrak to/from BWI when MARC and/or the B30 doesn't run, but why do it any other time?

Because sometimes the Amtrak train provides a faster trip - and I don't mean faster travel time, but less waiting time.

The Penn Line has the best service of any MARC line, but let's not make it out to be better than it is. It is a bit peaky (more trains in the AM to DC, PM to Baltimore) and the frequency isn't that great off-peak.

by Alex B. on Apr 23, 2013 11:40 am • linkreport

@Alex B.

Off peak Amtrak service isn't really better than MARC's though, especially if your not willing to spend $$$ on the Acela Express.

by King Terrapin on Apr 23, 2013 11:51 am • linkreport

As someone born and raised in Chicago (I live in DC now, of course), I'm sad that the ex-Metra equipment is heading out. That said, the extra capacity is a good thing.

Irregardless, I feel that MARC just doesn't use its equipment very efficiently. A lot of other transit agencies will operate early inbound trains on short reverse-peak trips to keep platforms open downtown. Just an example from my hometown of Chicago, Union Pacific North Line train 302 will arrive at Northwestern Station at 6:15, then turn into outbound train 311, head out to Winnetka, then reverse direction and go back inbound (that's just one of many examples of this kind of thing). The result of smart operations like this is that the station handles 38 arrivals between 7 AM and 9 AM on 16 platforms. In effect, you end up having a new arrival on each platform every 40 minutes.

Just as an example, the first inbound train on the Brunswick line, 870, arrives at Union Station at 6:23, then takes up space until it gets moved back out in the afternoon.

by Aaron Z. on Apr 23, 2013 12:01 pm • linkreport

Off peak Amtrak service isn't really better than MARC's though, especially if your not willing to spend $$$ on the Acela Express.

Yes, it is - because it exists! MARC disappears after a certain hour. Amtrak has more coverage throughout the day, even with non-Acela services only.

My whole point here isn't to make this an Amtrak vs. MARC argument, but merely to point out that they are complimentary services. Many people will use the service that's more convenient, and that decision will not always fit nicely into the categorical box of 'intercity Amtrak' or 'commuter MARC.'

An example: I've flown into BWI, now I need to get back to DC. My flight was delayed, so I can't catch the train I wanted to. So, I take the shuttle bus to the rail station and buy a ticket for the next non-Acela train to DC. This kind of decision-making happens all the time, and it's based on the convenience of making use of the combined service frequency of MARC and Amtrak.

by Alex B. on Apr 23, 2013 12:22 pm • linkreport

"My whole point here isn't to make this an Amtrak vs. MARC argument, but merely to point out that they are complimentary services."

I guess I misunderstood your comment. I thought you were saying that Amtrak service to BWI was better, because it was more frequent off-peak. Granted this is the case very late at night and on weekends, but during the day (peak and off-peak) frequencies are about the same. As you said the services compliment each other and most passengers will just purchase a ticket for the next train available.

The only time I've taken a train from BWI was a few years ago when I flew into BWI really late (due to a missed connection) in CLT and I was practically running through the airport to catch the shuttle so I would make the last MARC train to DC (~11:15p or so iirc). Even though I was anxious to catch that train (I did), it was comforting to know that I wouldn't be stranded there since there was still Amtrak even though it cost extra and I would likely be waiting a while at that time of night.

by King Terrapin on Apr 23, 2013 12:45 pm • linkreport

@AlexB

But for all of that to work, you need a higher level of service. Electification is a key step in providing a) faster trains, b) better acceleration (making more stops feasible), and c) more efficient operations.

I thought the main problem was with the CSX track. How much time could really be saved with electrification and the existing track compared?

by JimT on Apr 23, 2013 12:52 pm • linkreport

Will, if you don't build the parking garage, where are people going to park, particularly if you insititue a residents-only parking policy on the side streets? Don't get me wrong, there can be justification for that.

But without the garage, ridership growth will be stopped and Halethorpe may lose existing riders. Parking is absolutely critical to a successful commuter rail or rapid transit system. A shiny new station is worthless if you can't park when you get there.

I'd say the garage is absolutly necessary.

Tom Hoffman

by Tom Hoffman on Apr 23, 2013 12:53 pm • linkreport

I thought the main problem was with the CSX track. How much time could really be saved with electrification and the existing track compared?

No doubt, they need more track capacity, too. But that should be a relatively easy fix - the ROW is there, and not too constrained. And this is part of MARC's growth and investment plan.

Shifting to electrification is a much bigger change. However, CSX is likely going to have to deal with it south of DC (Amtrak has desires to extend the NEC south to Richmond, complete with electrification) even if it means additional pax tracks adjacent to freight tracks.

by Alex B. on Apr 23, 2013 1:02 pm • linkreport

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