CHARLES TOWN – With the Maryland Transit Administration ready to cut the Eastern Panhandle from six trains a day to just two, residents urge a change in direction.
“Please see the opportunities here,” suggested Dr. Christine Wimer of Kearneysville, a veterinarian who is unable to take the MARC now because of its limited schedule, during Saturday’s packed MTA public hearing in Charles Town.
Take a lesson from Starbucks and Amazon, she said. “Improve your product. Provide more, not less, and reap the benefits of the upsell – for Maryland,” she said.
In addition to adding an express train from Martinsburg, Wimer said MTA could provide extras like Internet Wi-Fi and business class seating that some riders would pay more for. Upgrade, she said, “rather than the ever losing battle of spreading a smaller and smaller amount of money ever thinner.”
More than 70 speakers spoke at the hearing on proposed service cuts that would take effect in November. Maryland officials have been seeking an annual commitment of $3.4 million from West Virginia to continue the six weekday stops at Harpers Ferry, Duffields and Martinsburg. The West Virginia Legislature provided a one-time payment this year of $1.1 million.
Wimer’s comments were echoed by other speakers in the overflowing crowd of about 300 people downstairs at the Charles Town Library.
“I cannot believe that it is 2019 and we are actually having to talk about funding an existing mass transit line,” said Amy Lindsey, a professional urban planner and a Shepherdstown resident. “How shortsighted for both states to let things come to this. Spending on public transportation is one of the best returns that government gets.”
Andrew Mollohan of Harpers Ferry, who commutes daily on the MARC with his wife, agreed. “In an area that’s growing as fast as we are, it’s not a good idea to reduce mass transit to the No. 1 employment area in the region,” he said. “People are coming. They’re building the houses. Less service is not good. We need more service.”
Starting Nov. 4, the Maryland Department of Transportation would eliminate four trains now operating on the Brunswick line from Martinsburg to Union Station. Only a 5 a.m. eastbound train to Union Station and a 4:25 p.m. westbound train would remain.
MTA will continue to receive comments on the service cut proposal until Oct. 7.
Sixteen elected officials from Jefferson and Berkeley counties agreed that Gov. Jim Justice and other officials Charleston have failed to understand the importance of the MARC system to the Eastern Panhandle.
“I know you guys are fed up with our statehouse,” said Jefferson County Commission Josh Compton. “Please don’t punish or residents because of it.”
Thomas Jacobs of Inwood said cutting service to two inbound and outbound trains should be the MARC minimum service to keep viable the same commuter line that has operated in West Virginia since 1983.
He pointed out how MARC currently operates a ticket kiosk in Martinsburg, but not in Harpers Ferry or Duffields.
Melinda Ford of Martinsburg said MARC’s proposal won’t allow many West Virginia commuters to work an eight-hour day. Because she spends extra commuting time taking a bus across Washington to her workplace, Ford wondered how she is going to be able to use the MARC train at all.
“There’s no way I’m going to be able to catch the [evening homebound] train,” she said.
Sherie Chari of Shannondale said she has met people who told her they will have to quit their jobs if the MARC service reductions are adopted. “This is going to change lives,” she said. “It’s going to have a devastating effect on commuters’ lives and our economy.”
Several people attended who live outside the Panhandle, including Kay Peffley of Lanham, Md., who drove 100 miles to offer remarks.
To applause in the audience, she called out Maryland transit authorities for a “hypocritical” proposal to cut back West Virginia service over the claim of inadequate funding from another jurisdiction.
Time and again, people said cutting MARC train service in West Virginia will hurt Maryland and Virginia residents along with West Virginia residents. The whole region’s communities, economies and qualities of life are interconnected and interdependent, many speakers said.
Several people spoke how the MARC proposal would be economically and environmentally counterproductive. Fewer trains will further crowd already roadways, they said.
Several people questioned whether the Brunswick train station’s parking lot could accommodate the West Virginia riders.
“If you guys pull your trains and force people to get in their cars, the impact on the Maryland roads will be significant,” said Bob Kellar of Shepherdstown. “I can’t imagine that Maryland is going to really appreciate hundreds and hundreds more cars.”