WASHINGTON – Hurricane Floyd was still several hundred miles from Maryland Wednesday, but it was powerful enough to force the cancellation of Amtrak and MARC rail service in the state and foul up commuting and travel plans.
Two of the Maryland Rail Commuter Service’s three lines were shut down Wednesday and were scheduled to stay closed Thursday. Many flights to Florida from Baltimore-Washington International Airport were cancelled or delayed.
Amtrak trains were running on a limited basis, with many trains to the South cancelled or only running partial routes. A spokesman for Amtrak said all scheduled travelers were called and warned of changes and cancellations.
That was of little help to Andrew Warren, who trudged through Washington’s Union Station holding up a napkin with “Richmond” written on it Wednesday in the hope that someone would take pity on him. The British tourist, weighed down by oversized luggage, was stranded after his train from Chicago to Richmond was forced to stop by the hurricane.
Warren, 22, was heading to Richmond to collect more luggage from a friend’s home before returning to London on Saturday. But his train stopped in Pittsburgh and passengers were bused to Washington. He had hoped to catch a Greyhound bus from Washington, but found out the buses weren’t running to Richmond either.
“So this is all we can think to do,” Warren said of his hand-written sign. “No one’s come up to me yet.”
The hurricane forced MARC to close its Brunswick and Camden lines after CSX Corp. evacuated dispatchers from its Jacksonville, Fla., headquarters. The two MARC lines run on rails owned and operated by CSX.
But MARC’s Penn line runs on Amtrak tracks, which are controlled by dispatchers in Pittsburgh. The line, which runs from Perryville through Baltimore to Union Station, is expected to continue operating Thursday.
Commuters who normally ride the Brunswick and Camden lines were shuttled by bus to the Penn line or Metro stations Wednesday, resulting in standing room only on the Penn line.
“This morning it was unusually crowded and a lot of people had to stand,” said Deborah McCallum, an attorney at the Department of Veterans Affairs who has been riding the Penn line from Edgewood to Union Station for eight years.
She usually gets to the station by 5 p.m. to get a seat on the train home, but was already at the station by a little after 4 p.m. Wednesday.
“I don’t think that’s going to be the case today,” she said. “I’m going to be here when [the train] pulls into the gate.”
Although there were a few delays at BWI, most planes were moving in and out of the airport Wednesday. Several airlines had cancelled flights from Florida and other Southern airports, but the airport was operating as usual Wednesday afternoon.
“Everything looks pretty normal now,” said BWI spokesman John White. “We plan to stay open.”
But White did suggest that passengers call the airline or check the flight’s status on the Internet before leaving home.
Many travelers who heard about Hurricane Floyd went to their travel agencies to change plans, said Michele Morrison, owner of Globe Travel International in Annapolis.
She said many of her clients who planned to travel this weekend scampered for earlier flights so they could arrive at their destination before the weather in Maryland took a turn for the worse.
Morrison said one of her clients, a business that had been planning a company conference in Atlanta for almost a year, was forced to cancel the event because of the hurricane.