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Officials, resident debate six-hour MARC delay

November 15, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Jefferson County officials and a county resident on Thursday debated how to react to a situation last Wednesday in which riders of the MARC commuter train faced a six-hour delay after a combination of high winds and a possible tornado resulted in the MARC line being closed near Boyds, Md.

County resident Tom Trumble, whose wife was on the train, told the Jefferson County Commission the incident proves MARC no longer can guarantee same-day service between Jefferson County and Washington, D.C., and someone needs to find out why.

Trumble said it is vital to find out the answers since more commuters are turning to MARC as a way to avoid growing highway congestion.

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Trumble said it appears MARC is unprepared to deal with a serious emergency and questioned how long it would take for the train service to deal with a more serious situation.

"A wind storm took six hours, any estimates on a terrorist attack?" Trumble said.

MARC officials did not return two phone messages Thursday.

Trumble said his wife took the 6:51 a.m. train to Rockville, Md., last Wednesday and did not return home until 1 a.m. Thursday morning, six hours after her normal arrival time. The situation was complicated further by the lack of water on the train to flush toilets and no water to drink, Trumble said.

Some riders shared potato chips, peanuts and other food, Trumble said.

Another downfall of the delay was MARC's failure to provide information between riders and family members waiting for them at stations, Trumble said. One rider finally called a local TV station to get the word out, Trumble said.

Trumble encouraged the commissioners to form a committee to analyze MARC's emergency planning process as part of an effort to make sure such a disruption does not occur again.

The commissioners had mixed reactions.

Commissioners Greg Corliss and Rusty Morgan supported the idea.

Corliss said commuter train service is an important part of the county's transportation network, and will continue to be as the community grows.

"The county, as you know, is headed toward doubling its size in population," said Corliss, adding that about 500 county residents depend on MARC.

Commissioner Al Hooper questioned whether the commissioners had any leverage to make changes. Hooper also said there is no guarantee riders will get to a certain destination when they take a train.

Trumble said that does not mean that riders should not be supplied with basic needs, like proper restroom facilities.

"It's a train. It's not a Volkswagen," Trumble said.

Commission President Jane Tabb also was cool to the idea of a committee, saying the county might create more problems than it solves if it demands answers from MARC.

With doubt lingering over the formation of the committee, Corliss volunteered to research the issue himself. Corliss said he plans to start by contacting Berkeley County Commission President Howard Strauss and U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito's office to get their opinions.

In the meantime, the commissioners voted to table the issue.

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