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Department of Maryland Transit Administration
Paul J. Wiedefeld, MTA Administrator
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MARC Train
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Frequently Asked Questions for MARC Train

MARC Train service operates on Monday through Friday ONLY.


Why can't my train have more equipment?



Several factors prevent MARC from adding more cars to our trains.  When all trains are operating at planned levels MARC uses 94 cars.  Often this many cars are not available for service and we have to "short" some trains.  The  number of cars available varies from day to day.  Cars must be removed from service for a federally required twice-annual inspection or due to unplanned repairs to correct a problem that cannot be fixed while the car stays on the train.   With our present car fleet we simply cannot provide any more cars to operate on trains.  In addition, storage space for more cars is not available.  In Washington our contract with Amtrak limits car storage in the middle of the day.  Space in Washington is at such a premium that we run two sets of equipment up to Baltimore Penn Station in the day to free up storage space.  While this eases the storage problem it places a train where maintenance  facilities are not available.  On the Penn Line there is no more space in Baltimore at night to store additional cars.


I don't like the single level cars.  Why can't my train operate with the bi-level cars?

Unfortunately 60 of MARC's 117 cars are the single level cars with 3 and 2 (with an aisle in between) seating.  Obviously with ridership at record levels  we can't afford to hold these cars out of service.  Generally the bi-level cars are operated where we need to provide the maximum number of seats on a  train when we can't expand the length of the train.  For this reason most of the bi-level cars are on the Penn Line that has the highest ridership and trains are at their maximum length.  We also operate the bi-levels on the two heaviest Brunswick and Camden trains.


Why did you buy these old gallery cars from Chicago?

MARC is faced with record ridership and needed to acquire more equipment.  There were no funds available for new cars that can cost up to $2million apiece.  The gallery cars were available for very little because Chicago's system was purchasing 300 new gallery cars.  While they are not new, these 30 year-old cars are virtual "spring chickens" compared to the 50 year old MARC I cars that they will replace.  In addition they provide over 150 seats per car versus 85 in the old single level cars.  This will not all be a net gain in seating because later in 2004 we will begin taking our oldest MARC II cars (the 3 and 2 seaters) out of service for a much needed overhaul.  We know that there are features of the gallery cars that are foreign to our riders.  However these cars carry over 100,000 riders each day in Chicago and are a proven design.  Because of their door arrangement they can only be used at low-level platforms, which restricts them to the Brunswick Line.


Why does my train come in so far out from the station at Washington?

During the day MARC has 13 trains at Union Station on the upper level.  Because there is insufficient storage in Washington, two trains are moved to Baltimore's Penn Station for storage and return in the afternoon.  Generally MARC trains use only 8 station tracks (Amtrak uses the remaining tracks for their own operation) and one track in the small storage yard at the north end of the station.  Of the 8 station tracks used by MARC, 4 of them do not have high-level platforms.  Penn Line trains using electric locomotives cannot operate on tracks 7, 8 or 9.  Therefore, it is a physical impossibility to have the MARC passenger's ideal location, a high level platform at the bumper post close to the station exit, for every train.  Invariably some trains must be "stacked" on top of another train causing a long walk.  Unfortunately tracks 15 and 16 are among the longest available tracks and have low-level platforms as well making them the least favorite of our passengers.

The placement of trains varies from day to day.  Since MARC has no separate maintenance facility, all work on cars is generally done on the platforms at Washington. Each train must periodically be placed on track 16, the only track with a below ground train pit which allows inspection of the undercarriage of the car. Different trains may get held in Washington to fix a problem thus changing the placement of trains.  Diesel locomotives are maintained by CSX in Baltimore so trains from the Brunswick Line may wind up going to Camden station on any given day, thus requiring further shuffling. 

Arrival time does not guarantee the ideal track.  For example, smaller Brunswick and Camden trains may operate on the Penn Line during the middle of the day while Penn Line locomotives are serviced. As a result early arrivals such as train 870 from Brunswick are placed on short low level tracks where they won't get "buried" by later arriving trains.  During the rush hour an open track may be held for an Amtrak train arriving later in the morning from New York or Boston. It doesn't seem to make sense to the passenger who arrives early in the rush hour and sees open tracks elsewhere in the station, but it's a necessary step to keep the station functioning efficiently.


Why can't MARC add more trains to West Virginia, Baltimore, Frederick, etc?

The short answer is that MARC doesn't have any extra equipment to operate new services.  Even if equipment were acquired there are other obstacles.  Any new trains would require more crews, fuel, and payments to the contracted railroads. These factors are some of the biggest cost components.  Any new service would have to compete with other transportation projects in the state for subsidy funds.  While we have not been in a position to add new services in recent years, we are aware that CSX would not welcome extra service outside of our present service hours.  Amtrak would operate extra trains but they would have to fit in with Amtrak service.


Why doesn't MARC do something about CSX running freight trains ahead of MARC trains?

MARC's relationship with CSX is a complex one.  CSX's primary business is freight traffic, which pays for the basic operation of the railroad.  CSX believes that the payments made by MARC do not cover all of the costs associated with the service.   While MARC trains are delayed by freight trains, it is not as evident to our passengers that MARC can delay freight service. CSX's participation in commuter service is inherited from its predecessor, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.  The service continues to run not on the basis of any legal obligation, but on recognition of the potential political liabilities of terminating the service.   There is no legal basis to compel operation of the service or to give priority for passenger trains over freight trains.  CSX also keeps staffing at a low level in order to maximize profits.  When there is a problem with signal systems or weather, CSX has less staff to respond to disruptions than is ideal on a passenger railroad. We often share customers' frustrations over dispatching decisions or the reliability of crucial signal systems but other than ongoing discussions with CSX there is little that we can do to change their policies.


MARC ridership is high and I pay a lot for my ticket, why isn't the service better?

Despite record high ridership MARC's resources are limited.  Both CSX and Amtrak have been aggressive in demanding that MARC pay greater amounts to operate our trains on their railroads.  Railroad workers continue to get salary increases based on nationwide conditions in the railroad industry, which has been relatively prosperous in recent years.  Another major cost factor has been liability insurance.  Since the tragedies of 9/11, the cost of insurance has skyrocketed.  During 2004 the increasing price of fuel has also increased MARC's cost of running trains.   Fares only cover 60% of the cost of operating the trains.  The remainder comes from the State of Maryland.  The State allocates its transportation dollars for both public transit and highways.  There are some projects, which could improve the condition of the equipment, but funds are not available to pay for these projects.  Some of the service problems are related to the performance of CSX and Amtrak.  In order to pay incentives to these railroads sufficient to influence their decisions, MARC fares would have to be substantially higher.


Why didn't I hear an announcement about my late train on the radio or TV?

The MARC operations center relays information on delays every 15 minutes to the MTA Transit Team.  The Transit Team is four MTA employees whose sole job it is to take information from all of MTA's modes (MARC, Baltimore Metro, Light Rail, Mobility, Core Bus and Commuter Bus) and convey it to area radio and TV stations.  The four man team broadcasts  over 100 reports a day on radio and TV from a studio located at 6 St. Paul Street.  Some stations only take the information from the Transit Team and incorporate it in their own traffic reports. Each station determines when and how often to broadcast the transit information.
Contacting MARC Train


Construction & Maintenance Updates



Please note every time information is handed off, there is a loss of valuable time and a certain amount of accuracy.  It is difficult trying to convey that trains originating in West Virginia are 15 minutes late, those leaving Frederick are 10 minutes late, but trains leaving Brunswick are on time - in a few words on a moving scroll along the bottom of a TV screen.  Add in the uncertainty and rapidly changing nature of the original information and sometimes MTA just cannot get patrons the quality of the information that is desired.  The train that was 10 minutes late when the Transit Team talked to the MARC operations center, could now be 20 minutes late by the time the information hits the airwaves. The other reality is that the first priority of most transit reports is the large volumes of commuters on the area's highways and on the Washington Metrorail System. Many stations screen what information they consider important and not all MARC delays are reported.  It is important for our riders to communicate with their preferred radio and TV stations about how important delay information is to them.

For information on major delays, the MTA recommends checking the information available on this website and signing up for e-News Notification updates also found at the top of the home page of www.mtamaryland.com.


Why do MARC trains operate under restricted speed during warm weather?

Whenever temperatures are forecast to reach near 90 degrees or in the event that temperatures should increase by 30 degrees, CSX will impose "Heat Restrictions" after 1:00pm. All Brunswick & Camden MARC trains will operate 20 miles per hour under the normal maximum authorized speed but not less than 40 miles per hour. In addition, track inspectors will be out in the afternoon rush hour inspecting the track for "sun kinks". CSX inspectors may cause extra delays contingent upon other train traffic in the area. Depending upon the length of the trip and the number of stops, delays can range from 10 to 35 minutes (Train 877 to Martinsburg normally suffers the most delay because of its long trip and express schedule).

These heat restrictions are designed to reduce the impact on the track structure and minimize the possibility of sun kinks. Railroad track is generally laid with one-quarter mile lengths of rail. As heat increases, the rail expands placing more stress on the ties and ballast holding the tracks in place. If the expansion becomes too strong for the track structure, the rail can shift resulting in the possibility of an derailment.

We are frequently asked about other railroad policies on heat restrictions. Amtrak policies govern the Penn  Line. The are no Federal rules governing when speed restrictions are imposed or the amount of the restriction. Major railroads across the United States each have their own policy on this issue. CSX feels strongly that their policy provides the maximum safety even if it is at the expense of evening delays to commuter traffic. As the owner of the railroad, the responsibility for safety ultimately rests on the decisions of the CSX engineering department.


What is the policy governing bicycles on MARC rail?

Due to safety concerns, MARC's bicycle policy allows for the transportation of folding bicycles only. There are no designated storage areas for bikes, and they are prohibited from being stored in the overhead racks. However, folding bikes are no longer restricted to those carried in a case.