State of the southern end of the NEC - Jan 9 - 12, 2022

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Apr 5, 2011
Baltimore. MD
Well, at least the section of the NEC between Baltimore and Washington. I spent the last few days attending the Transportation Research Board Meeting in Washington. It was almost like old times, except that I took the 6:15 MARC train 511 in the morning instead of one a 5:30, like I was doing before I retired. On Sunday, the first MARC train left after the Palmetto, so that's what I rode down and didn't get in until after 9:30 AM. They have really cut back the southbound NEC service in the morning, and even 67 is cancelled.

The evening service north is only a little better. It's hourly, ~5, ~6, and ~7PM, but it's either a Regional or an Acela at the time slot, not both, like they had before. The schedule was really erratic. There was a 6:05 Regional on Sunday, there was a 6PM Acela, a 6:05 Regional and a 7 PM Acela on Monday, no Acela a 6 PM on Tuesday, but There was one at 7, but no Regional, and no 7 PM regional on Wednesday. I rode home on the 6:05 on Sunday and Monday, the 7PM Acela on Tuesday (meeting ended a bit late) and a 3:55 Acela on Wednesday. The Acela and northeast regional business class fares were about the same and always the same low bucket. All coach fares were also low bucket. The regionals were pretty well patronized, but the business class sections were pretty empty. The MARC trains were definitely showing a fall-off of patronage, and I had a seat to myself for the whole ride down, something that usually never happens during the morning rush hour. However, when we got off at DC, there was still a decent crowd piling out of the train, it's just that it was hundreds of passengers, not thousands.

Union Station is like a ghost town during the rush hours. It seemed busier when I came through at 3 PM on Wednesday. If business travel doesn't pick up, there may be long term changes in traffic patterns, even if ridership recovers. A whole bunch of the stores and eateries in the station have closed. I guess the place doesn't get the foot traffic without the commuters.

Other than that, everything was running OK. The 6:05 chases after a MARC train and sometimes catches up with it, so at times we ran slowly and didn't keep to schedule. I'm not sure why they don't just schedule the MARC train to leave after the Amtrak, it's not like there's a lot of other traffic these days.

One thing about this reduced schedule is that a larger proportion of the northbound regionals out of Washington are continuations of trains coming up from Virginia. This means that a good chunk of northbound NEC service is at the mercy of CSX. It also means more chance of having to board from the low platforms in the lower level. So far, it hasn't caused me any real trouble, except for the delayed Palmetto during my ride home from the Gathering, but it's something to watch.

Can't wait until this pandemic is over thangs return to whatever the new normal is.