Long-term MARC deal finally in place
West Virginia and Maryland have signed a five-year agreement to continue MARC train service at three daily trains from Martinsburg to Union Station in Washington, D.C.
The deal calls for West Virginia to pay MARC $3.4 million per year, with that figure rising slightly with time. According to the West Virginia Department of Transportation, after several weeks of negotiation with Maryland, it is satisfied the $3.4 million figure is the accurate cost of running three trains between Maryland and Martinsburg.
Governor Jim Justice has put $2.9 million in the state budget for Fiscal Year 2021, which begins this coming July 1, to cover the costs to the state. He is presuming that an additional $500,000 will come from local governments in Jefferson and Berkeley Counties.
I have told the governor’s people that I am strongly opposed to any local contribution to MARC service beyond the “one-time” contributions made this year to keep the service running through June 30, 2020. As I’ve publicly said before, commuter rail is funded at the state level nationwide. I can find no evidence that any county or municipality in Maryland provides a penny to support MARC.
And local governments in West Virginia are more seriously financially strapped than those in most other states. I think it is wrong to ask the county governments of Jefferson and Berkeley, and the governments of the municipalities therein, to pony up money in support of MARC.
Some people have advocated ideas, related to expanding MARC service beyond the existing three trains daily from Martinsburg. One of those ideas is for more trains from Martinsburg to the District of Columbia, since a fourth train used to travel from Martinsburg to Union Station. I’m all for it.
Delegate Daryl Cowles (R-Morgan) has suggested that at least one train per day be extended to Hancock, W.Va. That is an unincorporated village on U.S. Route #522 about eight miles north of Berkeley Springs. It sits on the Potomac River, right across from Hancock, Md. A train from there would serve riders from West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. I would love to see that happen.
Another idea is for a tourist train to Harpers Ferry, which would leave Union Station on Saturday mornings and return back to Union Station on Sunday evenings. Again, I would love to see that, as well.
But none of this can happen if local governments are expected to carry part of the load.
The insistence on local financial contributions comes from both Governor Justice and State Senator Craig Blair (R-Berkeley). Senator Blair is the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and therefore an important person when it comes to appropriations. Senator Blair seems to be even more insistent on local financial contributions than the governor.
We have made great progress toward guaranteeing continued MARC service at an acceptable level. But we clearly have more work that needs to be done, with MARC train planning.