Thousands of Maryland rail commuters will have to find another way to work today, thanks to Hurricane Floyd.
CSX Corp. has decided to shut nearly 5,000 miles of East Coast railroad track today so workers at its Jacksonville, Fla., dispatch station can evacuate. The decision means that the Maryland Rail Commuter system's Brunswick and Camden lines will not run today.
It also will strand other rail commuters -- and halt most freight traffic -- between Pennsylvania and Florida.
Depending on the storm's course, the shutdown might extend into tomorrow, officials said.
A CSX official said yesterday that closing the track was an unprecedented step for the company, one that others predicted could cost the company millions.
"If we're going to err, it will be on the side of safety," said Robert L. Gould, a CSX spokesman in Washington.
"Jacksonville is one of the hurricane's target zones, and the dispatchers who live there need to tend to their families and their homes." Gould said he knew of no other instance of a storm forcing the dispatch center to close.
The disruption means some 5,000 MARC passengers will have to find other transportation today. In Virginia, at least 2,000 commuter rail passengers will be inconvenienced. And about 1,400 freight trains loaded with automobiles, coal, orange juice and other products will have to sit.
The Maryland Transit Administration distributed fliers on MARC trains last night notifying passengers of the problem and encouraging them to ride the system's Penn Line, which runs on Amtrak rail and is unaffected.
A shuttle bus is scheduled to transport passengers between the MARC station in Savage and the Odenton station on the Penn Line during rush hours today. MTA officials said MARC ticket-holders would be reimbursed.
But some commuters, who have endured tardy trains for months because of congestion on the CSX lines, said it is not enough.
"They find enough buses to shuttle people to Ravens games. Why can't they provide more buses for something like this?" said Chris Pendleton, a secretary who rides MARC daily from her home in Laurel to downtown Baltimore.
She planned to forgo MARC this morning and instead drive her 1987 Plymouth Sundance to work. "I hope and pray we don't break down," she said.
To assist riders on the Brunswick line, which runs through Montgomery County between Washington and Brunswick, a county-operated shuttle will be used to transport riders between the Germantown MARC station and the Shady Grove Metro station.
In Virginia, more than half of the stations on the Fredericksburg line were to have shuttle bus service for commuter rail passengers this morning.
"This is one of those situations where people's lives [in Florida] could really be in danger," said Matt Benka, a spokesman for Virginia Railway Express. "We want our CSX people to be safe, and we'll be glad to suffer a day's mixed-up commute for their safety."
The freight problem
The impact on businesses dependent on freight traffic was unclear.
"If this goes for a day or so, it will be an inconvenience to CSX more than anybody else," said Walter Schuchmann, of R.L. Banks & Associates, a transportation and economic consulting firm in Washington.
"Most of the things moving by rail are not going to shut down plants if there's a one-day delay," he said. "The bigger question is, can CSX shut down for a day and then get it back up and running fluid again?"
Officials with the Maryland Port Administration, which manages the state's public marine terminals, had not been notified of an impending rail jam yesterday evening, said Eugene Bailey, the port's director of operations.
Neither had local representatives for steamship lines that call in Baltimore.
"I've had customers calling all day asking what's going to happen, but we don't know yet. We just have to wait and see," said George Thomas, manager of the Baltimore office for Evergreen Line.
"If it's for three or four days, that could really cause some havoc."
Sun staff writer Robert Little contributed to this article.
The lines: Service on the Maryland Rail Commuter system's Brunswick and Camden lines has been canceled for today. Tomorrow's service is in question. Service on MARC's Penn Line is not affected.
Alternatives: State officials are offering shuttle buses between MARC's Savage station and its Odenton station, which is on the Penn Line.
Information: Call 1-800-325-RAIL or www.mtamaryland.com
Pub Date: 9/15/99