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Hundreds of concerned citizens crowd MARC train hearing

By Staff | Sep 13, 2019

Corporation of Shepherdstown Town Council member Mark Everhart addresses the Maryland Transit Administration hearing officer at Saturday's MARC train hearing in the Jefferson County Commission meeting room. Toni Milbourne

CHARLES TOWN — The Maryland Department of Transportation’s and Maryland Transit Administration’s public hearing in Charles Town on Saturday drew hundreds of residents from West Virginia and Maryland alike, who had comments to make regarding the proposed cut in MARC train services to West Virginia.

The proposed cuts would eliminate four of the six trains that serving Martinsburg, Duffields and Harpers Ferry, leaving only one train in the morning and one in the evening for commuters to utilize. The proposed cut by MTA comes on the heels of the West Virginia legislature allotting $1.1 million to fund the MARC system in the state, rather than the $3.4 million requested by the neighboring state.

Change will go into effect on Nov. 4, unless West Virginia finds additional funds, or other arrangements can be made to continue negotiations.

More than a dozen elected officials spoke, all seeking more time to secure the funding.

“Since 1983, West Virginia has only funded the MARC twice,” said Mark Everhart, Shepherdstown councilman. “Still, West Virginia riders have helped MTA maintain a fare-box recovery revenue of about 62 percent. Reducing the services will inevitably reduce ridership and also increase traffic.”

Kimberly Nelson, a member of the Martinsburg City Council, spoke about the amount of tax revenue going to Charleston from the salaries of train riders.

“With an average $150,000 a year salary of the alleged 250 riders,” Nelson said, “the state coffers get $2.5 million for taxes. That’s almost the entire cost of what Maryland is asking.”

In a June report, the MTA said the average number of riders-per-day was 250 passengers. Several elected officials and many members of the general public called out the MTA’s alleged record.

“Over 350 riders signed a petition,” said Charles Town resident Sandy Poole. “Of those, 40 percent stop in Maryland to work.”

Amy Lindsey, of Shepherdstown, said not everyone riding the train travels into Washington, D.C.

“Maryland is a destination, not a pass-through,” Lindsey told the hearing officer. “You’re hurting Maryland workers, patients trying to get to hospitals, students trying to get to schools and tourists traveling to destinations.”

Many speakers also pointed out to MTA officials the increased traffic to the Brunswick station would place hardship on that community, as well as increase in vehicles on the roadways.

“Brunswick capacity is limited,” said Andrew Mollohan, of Harpers Ferry. “The capacity at every West Virginia station is full. Areas that grow as fast as we all are growing – it’s crazy to limit mass transit.”

The call for increased service, rather than a decrease, was echoed by several speakers.

“This is a regional issue,” said Shepherdstown resident James Gatz. “It’s not just West Virginia and Maryland. Economically, it’s a regional issue.”

The addition of benefits to riders, such as wifi and the possibility of an express train, were also suggested by riders.

Another concern was the scheduled times of the one train remaining in service to West Virginia. The train that MDOT is proposing will travel to Washington, D.C., at 5 a.m. and return at 4:25 p.m.

Many attendees said this timeframe does not allow them to work an eight-hour day.

Brittany Marshall, director of media relations for MTA, said the West Virginia Rail Authority is the entity proposing those times for the single train.

“We are open to scheduling options,” Marshall said after the hearing.

The MTA will accept written public comment until Oct. 7. Comments can be emailed to Hearing Comments@mdot.maryland.gov.

Attendees indicated they were frustrated with their legislators and the rest of state government, who knew for at least two years that this was coming.

“We have had no hearing hosted by West Virginia. I would suggest that in the future, you make elected officials speak last so they can hear what the people have to say,” said Patience Wait, of Shepherdstown, pointing out that the majority of elected officials left the hearing after making their comments early in the process.