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MARC to expand?

By Staff | Apr 3, 2020

A news story in the Washington Post on March 20 by Luz Lazo reported that the Maryland General Assembly had passed a bill expanding MARC train service into Virginia and Delaware.

The article did not say if Maryland Governor Larry Hogan would sign the bill. Either way, the bill raises interesting questions.

There would be two trains into Virginia in the morning, and two returning in the afternoon. Extending MARC service into Virginia would benefit Marylanders working in that state, particularly those who would be working at the new Amazon location in Crystal City. The idea is to give them a “one seat” ride (meaning they won’t have to change trains anywhere on their trip).

But the extension into Delaware is different. MARC’s Penn Line presently terminates in Perryville, Md, a short distance from Delaware. A number of Delawareans use the Penn Line to get to work in Baltimore or the District of Columbia.

This is quite similar to West Virginians boarding MARC’s Brunswick Line at Brunswick. The distance from Perryville to Newark, Delaware (the closest Delaware station) is 20 miles. Brunswick to Martinsburg is 25 miles.

Certainly, if we can retain MARC service in Jefferson and Berkeley counties people living here could more easily commute to Amazon.

Does Maryland intend to charge Delaware for the train miles into Delaware? And if so, has Delaware agreed? Luzo’s story did not say. But one must wonder if communication between those two states had already occurred. Otherwise, why would Maryland go to the trouble of passing a bill that anticipated train service into Delaware.

This once again raises the question about MARC service here in the Eastern Panhandle. It’s definitely saved until April, 2021, and possibly longer. We need “longer” to become definite.

To summarize, Governor Jim Justice had the West Virginia Department of Transportation sign a five-year agreement with Maryland to continue MARC service at three trains a day each way between Martinsburg and D.C. West Virginia is to pay $3.4 million per year. Justice proposed, and the Legislature finally agreed, that the state would pay $2.8 million of that this year, with $600,000 of that coming from the municipalities and county governments of Jefferson and Berkeley counties.

Last year, I asked local governments to contribute $300,00 on a “one time” basis. Since I committed to them that my request would be “one time,” I will not ask them again. As I have pointed out on numerous occasions, commuter rail is financed, all over the nation, entirely at the state level. Not one penny of MARC’S approximately $150 million operating budget comes from counties or municipalities in Maryland. And local governments in West Virginia are far more strapped for financial resources than those in most other states, because of provisions in our state constitution.

The $2.8 million appropriated this year will last through the end of April. Next year, the Legislature begins its Regular Session in early February and concludes it in early April. We have time to fix the problem.