MARC Train Breaks Down; Passengers Heat Up

Amtrak and the Maryland Transit Administration both took responsibility for a MARC train that stalled Monday evening, trapping passengers in hot cars for about two hours.

Penn Line Train 538 -- packed with about 900 rush hour commuters -- had left D.C. and was traveling toward Baltimore and points further north when it broke down just past New Carrollton.

It took about an hour to get a locomotive that could tow the train back to D.C., but the stalled train's brakes would not release, the Associated Press reported.

Since the engine broke down, the air conditioning didn't work, either, making for very hot and uncomfortable conditions on the train.

"On behalf of Amtrak, I extend my most sincere apologies to the passengers of Train 538 for having to withstand unacceptable conditions and inconveniences during this service disruption," Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman said in a written statement Tuesday. "We fell short of providing the service we strive to deliver."

According to an MTA spokesperson, the train had extra bottles of water to help keep people cool.

Apparently passengers were allowed off the train to cool down while they waited for rescue.

"When the first arriving units got here they found basically mass chaos," said Prince George's County Fire/EMS Capt. Daniel Hughes. "People had just been released from the train and were milling about."

As many as 10 people were treated at the scene for heat-related illnesses. Three were transported to a hospital -- two for heat-related illnesses and one for an asthma attack.

He said three people were evaluated for dehydration and two of those were transported to a local hospital for treatment.

"People started breaking the windows, pulling the emergency windows out," one passenger said.

"I had to call an ambulance for one person because was suffering from almost heat stroke," another passenger said. "She had a medical condition. I saw another person being lifted out in a chair. There were people with significant health problems who were stuck there."

MTA Administrator Ralign Wells said in an e-mail Tuesday that he had gotten many complaints that passengers on the train did not get enough information about the situation, the Associated Press reported. He said it is a key issue that "I will insist be addressed." Ralign also wrote that he had spoken with Amtrak officials and the MTA and Amtrak will review policies for allowing passengers to leave a disabled train.

Wells issued a statement and apology to passengers on the train.

"I can guarantee you that a full review of all operations, communications and technical issues will begin immediately to identify the cause of this evening’s problem and improve the response of both Amtrak and MARC in the future,” Wells said.

A second train picked up most passengers and took them on to Baltimore and other points north, the AP reported, but others had to travel back to Washington before they could resume their trips.

An MTA spokesperson said it's not clear what caused the train to break down, but temperatures above 90 degrees can cause mechanical problems.

Amtrak is investigating why the train stalled and what can be done to prevent that, Boardman said.

MARC was feeling the heat again Tuesday evening, when the loss of power in overhead wires at Union Station for less than 10 minutes caused delays again. The station was not affected.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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