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Amtrak troubles strand travelers

Power woes hit Northeast service

By Samantha Henry
Associated Press / August 25, 2010

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NEWARK — In a snag all too familiar to commuters in a rail-dependent region, Amtrak and regional transit agencies halted trains throughout the Northeast for more than an hour at the height of the morning rush yesterday because of power problems that apparently began in the Washington area.

Isolated events — substation failures, even a single downed tree — have repeatedly stopped the entire Northeast Corridor, a railroad network that is called on to move tens of thousands of people daily through the nation’s densest population centers.

Amtrak said low-voltage troubles forced it to suspend service between New York City and Washington, D.C., and between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pa., starting at 7:45 a.m. Power was restored around 9 a.m.

The exact cause wasn’t immediately known, but Karina Romero, Amtrak spokeswoman, said the problem was more widespread than usual. Amtrak was focusing its investigation on the area between Washington and Perryville, Md., Romero said.

Railroad advocate Ken Briers said such troubles are not necessarily the sign of an antiquated, decrepit, or underfunded system. Service interruptions today are more likely the result of software glitches or tweaks to a system that Amtrak is actually upgrading, said Briers, a former train operator and director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers.

Amtrak has embarked on a long-term program to modernize dozens of substations along the corridor, some of which date to before World War II.

Briers stressed that he didn’t know what caused yesterday’s outage, but said low-voltage problems are often the result of a surge-protector kicking in.

Amtrak has experienced similar electrical malfunctions in the past, spotlighting problems with the railroad’s aging Northeast power-supply system.

A low-voltage problem brought service to a standstill two days before Christmas in 2009, snarling train traffic for thousands of travelers.

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