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State moves to cope with rail strike Commuters ride on buses leaving from MARC stations.


Maryland transportation officials were adequately prepared to get rail commuters to work today as freight railroads shut down coast-to-coast today and Amtrak stopped passenger service everywhere except in the Boston-to-Washington corridor.

Luck and well-laid plans were parts of the local picture in wake of one union's strike against a single freight line, CSX.

And part was the result of commuters taking things into their own hands.

Maryland's only one of three commuter lines able to operate because of the strike was MARC's Penn Line from Perryville in Cecil County through Baltimore to Washington, D.C.

The Camden and Brunswick rail commuter lines were shut down. But the state's Mass Transit Administration ferried commuters from some stations on those lines by buses to stops along the Penn Line.

Included were bus shuttles between the Savage station in Howard County and Odenton in Anne Arundel County, as well as between Camden and Penn Stations in the city.

Other bus shuttles were expected to be initiated today and tomorrow as the strike picture develops.

Officials described as "light" today's rush-hour ridership on both trains and buses. They speculated that the strike scared off many customers, who found alternate means of transportation.

"We think ridership is down by as much as half," said Ronald J. Hartman, MTA administrator. "People were at least happy that something was provided for them today."

Most commuters approached this bit of adversity with smiles and an occasional joke. Many looked for a brighter side to the inconvenience.

"I'm definitely glad I don't have to deal with buses," said Earl Sellars, an Internal Revenue Service computer security specialist who lives in Severn and was waiting for a train at Odenton, on the Penn Line.

"I would have driven if there were a full strike, and I hate that D.C. traffic," Mr. Sellars said.

Mr. Hartman said the Penn Line handles about of the daily commuter traffic -- about 9,000 riders. But ridership at the morning rush hour appeared to be down to about a third, he said.

Generally, commuters who were using the trains appeared informed about what transportation was available and somewhat relieved that the entire system was not shut down.

"I'm just glad I can get to work on a train," said Loren Purnell, who showed up at the Odenton station as a light drizzle fell. He is computer programmer who lives in Glen Burnie and works in Washington.

At Penn Station, Adrienne Knight, a Baltimore resident who works for the FBI in Washington, showed up an hour early for her 5:20 a.m. train sleepy-eyed but grateful for a way to work.

"I wanted to make sure if they brought us in [to Washington] on a train they'd bring us back," she said.

At stations along the route -- from Aberdeen to Penn Station in Baltimore to Odenton in Anne Arundel County -- many daily train travelers voiced concerns about getting stranded if the nature of the strike changed.

At Odenton, which is on the Penn Line, buses originally scheduled to ferry passengers to Savage were sent to that Howard County stop to take them to Odenton.

Paul Tisdale, a Severna Park resident who works for Office of Management and Budget, noted an abundance of parking in the Odenton lot.

"Right now, it's no problem," he said, adding that will probably change tomorrow morning when commuters realize that the Penn Line is operational.

At the old Aberdeen train stop in Harford County, MARC commuters were relieved that the Amtrak strike had been postponed for 48 hours.

Tom Coudon, who normally catches the MARC train in Perryville in Cecil County, already had started driving to Washington from his home outside Port Deposit when he heard on the radio Amtrak was delaying a possible strike.

He decided to catch the Penn Line train at Aberdeen. "It's so much easier to take the train," he said.

Lillian Walthers, who has driven a Victory cab for 35 years in Aberdeen, got up at 4 a.m. so she could ferry passengers into Baltimore, or better yet, to Washington.

"You could say I'm disappointed that the [Amtrak] strike was postponed," she said.

A one-way cab fare to Baltimore is $36, one-way to Washington is $70.

"We have gotten quite a bit of work in the past during strikes," she said. Ideally, she said she would pack her car with three or four commuters and take them all to Washington.

Elsewhere around the country, other commuters, freight shippers and farmers scrambled to arrange alternative ways to work and to markets.

President Bush said before the strike that a nationwide shutdown would be so devastating to the economy that "it ought to end the day it begins," through legislation if necessary.

The shutdowns came less than two hours after other unions had agreed to extend contract talks with Amtrak and Conrail and other freight railroads for at least 48 hours past a strike deadline of midnight last night.

A strike by the machinists union against CSX Transportation derailed that agreement. Machinists union officials did not return calls early today seeking comment.

The Association of American Railroads, which represents all major freight railroads, said the machinists had placed pickets at key CSX points, including Evansville, Ind.; Cincinnati; Louisville, Ky.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Brunswick, Md.

"Because of the seamless nature of the nation's freight rail system, a strike that begins in one region of the country affects service in the entire nation. Thus, the freight railroads are taking steps to proceed with a safe and orderly shutdown," said AAR President Edwin L. Harper.

Minutes later, Amtrak suspended operations because the vast majority of the 24,000 miles of track over which it operates is owned by the freight lines.

Amtrak spokesman Howard Robertson said the only unaffected service would be the line between Washington and Boston, which is entirely owned and operated by Amtrak.

He said there would be "a mixed impact" on commuter lines around the country that use Amtrak stations or tracks, but that millions of commuters in New York should not be affected. The Long Island Railroad said early today that commuters should stick to their regular morning schedules.

The dispute involves unions representing about 20,000 carmen, engineers, dispatchers, machinists and other employees.

More than 200,000 other rail workers were expected to honor picket lines.

Earlier yesterday, Jed Dodd, chief negotiator for the railroads' maintenance workers, said that bargainers were making significant progress with Amtrak but that the unions and Conrail remained "pretty far apart."

Amtrak, citing government data, said the initial cost of a strike would be $50 million a day. But it said that would rise to $637 million a day if the strike lasted more than two weeks and $1 billion daily after a month.

Robert Stempel, chairman of General Motors Corp., said the auto industry could be badly hurt. GM, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp. obtain most of their parts and ship most of their finished products by rail.

A coast-to-coast rail strike could also tie up shipments of coal, chemicals, grain and some mail.

Union leaders accused the rail companies of locking out workers in an attempt to create a national emergency and force Congress to intervene. And Transportation Secretary Andrew Card called on Congress to do just that.

"They should step in quickly," Card said this morning on Cable News Network.

"We need to keep the economy moving," he said. "This is jeopardizing that recovery."

Trailways, Greyhound and other intercity bus companies said they would honor Amtrak tickets. The railroad also announced agreements with USAir, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines to accommodate Amtrak passengers stranded by a strike.

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