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Power Outage on MARC Penn Line

20 April 2013

Yesterday we got on the Marc Train to go to Washington, DC and from there to visit friends in Virginia.  With a freshly baked loaf of bread and a bagful of books for their little ones, and our weekend bags, we went to Edgewood MARC station, sat in the newly constructed waiting area as well as board displaying the time and ETA of the train, and boarded the train.

We were also planning to attend the AID Community Service Hour, featuring a talk on Gandhian Engineering by Michael Mazgaonkar, who took part in the Clinton Global Initiative University, and also to attend Shakespeare’s Birthday festivities at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Harford County had called earlier with a recorded message informing us of a tornado watch in our area.  The thought of canceling the trip crossed my mind but everything was all lined up and I have travelled in worse weather before.

Shortly after we left Baltimore Penn Station the lights in the train dimmed a few times.  We were sitting in a set of four seats in the middle of the compartment.  I could see the passengers in the seats facing the direction opposite mine and there was a young woman who started worrying as soon as the lights flashed.  I didn’t think that flashing lights were much to worry about but her alarmed look reminded me of the suspect who was still at-large and being hunted in Boston.   I kept my thoughts off this and continued reading my book, A Mathematician’s Lament.  The train stopped.  I kept reading.  Over the speakers a woman apologized for the delay and told us that due to the storm there was a power outage in Washington and the signals on the train tracks were not working.  Hence the train could not run.  I don’t know if the train also depended on the electricity.   Imagine if power outage brought trains to a halt in India!  She said that they were awaiting instructions as to whether they could continue or would have to return to Baltimore Penn Station.

Fifteen minutes later we were heading back to Penn Station.  They said that this train would be delayed and they had no estimate of the delay. We could take our receipt and go to the customer service desk for a refund or compensation if we chose to take another form of transportation, she announced.  That sounded like they were not very optimistic about starting any time soon.  About half the people got up to leave.  Should we also leave, or should we give it a few more minutes?  The people seated behind us showed no intention of leaving.  I guess they were going to wait it out.  Power wouldn’t be out forever.

But it was 8:15 and we were not sure whether we would even reach New Carrollton station by 10 pm – before leaving we had seen an announcement that the Orange Line would close at 10 pm for some repair work.  We heard a police officer suggest to someone else that she could take the light rail to BWI, the a bus to the metro and from there to DC.   Normally we’d have taken that route but   it was late, dark, raining and we had bags.  We went to the MARC Customer service desk as instructed by the woman who spoke over the public address system on the train.  When we told them that the train was not running due to power outage, the representative said, “what do you want me to do?”

“They said that we could get a refund.”

“MARC Tickets are valid for 6 months, but they are non-refundable.”

Our ticket had already been punched.  That doesn’t matter, she assured us.  We asked a few more questions, all resulting in the same response.  We would get no refund, no new ticket, no return ticket, and no information about when the train would run.

So we asked a kind co-passenger for the use of his phone and called my dad who came and picked us up.   The help desk in the center of the station also had a phone that people could use.  Around 9:15 when went to ask to use it the security guard there greeted me with, “You will be able to go to Washington soon.”

“Really?”  I rejoined.

“Yes, we’re attaching a diesel engine and running the train.”

But now it was very late and my dad was almost at the station.  And no telling when the train would actually run.  The ship had sailed.  But it is good to know the passengers who decided to wait it out would be departing soon.   Back outside I saw that the queue for taxis, which had been very long for the past hour, had started to subside.  And more people were arriving to catch trains.

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From → On the Road

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