CHARLES TOWN – No official word was available on midday Tuesday as to whether West Virginia and Maryland transportation officials have made headway in negotiations in continuing the MARC commuter service in the Eastern Panhandle.
Maryland officials extended a Nov. 4 deadline until Friday for West Virginia to pay the Old Line State an extra $2.3 million this year to continue the three-stop Panhandle service until June 30.
However, Delegate John Doyle, D-District 67, who has been monitoring and working to obtain the MARC funding as a state lawmaker, said he heard that a multi-year funding agreement could be announced as early as this week.
Gov. Jim Justice’s staff have told him, Doyle said, that State Rail Authority Executive Director Cindy Butler has been directed to seal such a deal.
“We should have it resolved by the 30th of November,” Doyle said of the negotiations. “We’re just about home free.”
“If negotiations are progressing reasonably, my assumption is they will extend the deadline again,” he added.
Butler did not immediately respond to a request for comment midday Tuesday.
Maryland transportation officials stated in a prepared statement that they remain “open to discussions with the West Virginia Rail Authority on any concerns regarding the proposed service change.”
West Virginia transportation officials hadn’t immediately responded as of midday Tuesday about the status of MARC funding negotiations.
Earlier this year, the West Virginia Legislature appropriated $1.1 million of the $3.4 million Maryland wants to continue the Brunswick Line service to and from Harpers Ferry, Duffields and Martinsburg.
Maryland officials said they plan to cut the service if they don’t receive the full $3.4 million. They also have said they want annual funding to continue the Eastern Panhandle commuter service, and that the West Virginia funding they need would also likely continue to increase over time.
Maryland Transit Administration has proposed reducing the current MARC service of six trains running weekdays back and forth between Martinsburg and Union Station to one 5 a.m. eastbound train and one 4:25 p.m. westbound train.
MTA officials said MARC passengers will receive at least 30 days notice before any cut in service might take effect.
Justice asked local governments in Jefferson and Berkeley counties to contribute $300,000 toward funding the MARC. All except $42,000 of the $300,000 was pledged by six municipalities and two county governments to help continue the train service.
However, most local government officials said their funding would only be a one-time payment, not a multi-year commitment that was suggested.
The Jefferson County Commission voted 3-2 to contribute a $40,000 of its suggested $82,810 share toward the MARC train. The majority of JCC members, pointing out that the county has no revenue source for transportation services, said ongoing local funding of the MARC was either highly doubtful or never going to happen.