At 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 7 in Charles Town, officials from the Maryland Department of Transportation will hold a public hearing on the future of the MARC train in West Virginia.
Current plans call for eliminating four of the six trains that currently serve Harpers Ferry, Duffields and Martinsburg as well as eliminating EPTA bus service from Brunswick station for two additional trains. This reduction in service will have a devastating impact on Eastern Panhandle residents’ ability to commute to D.C. as well as the future of the MARC train itself.
The danger in reducing service lies with CSX, who owns the track used by the passenger rail service.
If MARC cuts service, CSX will fill those now empty slots with freight trains and will be unlikely to relinquish them again even if full funding is restored.
For this reason, it’s vital that the state of West Virginia work with Maryland to come up with a solution that ensures continued, full service of the MARC train into the Eastern Panhandle.
With service reductions imminent, it’s time for West Virginia’s elected and appointed officials to talk about real solutions to the ongoing problem of MARC train funding.
Because of the current time crunch I propose that Gov. Jim Justice immediately authorize full funding of the MARC train for Fiscal Year 2020.
The state currently has a $37 million surplus. A small amount of those funds could be used to ensure continued service until July 2020.
This would give our Legislature and local governments time to work on a long term funding solution.
Looking towards the future, MARC riders along with county and state government need to work together to ensure continued funding.
First, there is currently a $2 per ticket surcharge for West Virginia riders of the MARC. I believe that this needs to be increased slightly to generate more revenue directly from train ridership and don’t think that most West Virginia riders would disagree with a $1 to $2 increase if it helped to ensure continued full service. Second, the City of Martinsburg is currently responsible for upkeep of the Martinsburg MARC station and the National Park Service is responsible for Harpers Ferry station. Jefferson County should take full responsibility for Duffields station with plans to expand parking and update the station itself. Research has shown that increased ridership of commuter lines is almost always driven by convenience.
Increased access to parking will almost surely result in an increase in ridership over the long term.
Berkeley and Jefferson counties should work together on an independent plan to fund EPTA bus service from Brunswick station, which needs to be separated from MARC funding.
The two are currently tied together, hence the decision to discontinue bus service along with the possible MARC service reduction.
Finally, our state legislators need to fully realize the value of the MARC train and work to propose a long term funding solution to the state of Maryland that will ensure continued service for years to come. Currently service operates via a yearly memorandum of understanding. Proposing long term funding would put West Virginia in a better position to negotiate and might result in reduced yearly service costs.
While it is easy to ignore the issue of MARC funding using the excuse that ridership is relatively low, MARC riders do contribute a great deal to the economy of West Virginia in the form of income, property, and sales taxes. All of which will be put at risk if service is reduced or discontinued.
The MARC train is an important service that not only needs to be maintained but expanded.
A well-run, easily accessible commuter train is an asset to the Eastern Panhandle that will entice new residents as well as improve the quality of life for both commuters and local drivers by reducing the number of cars that use our already overcrowded roadways.
Lastly, it is absolutely vital that everyone who is concerned about MARC train service show up at the public hearing on Sept. 7. It is a chance to speak up and let Maryland officials know how important continued service is to the Eastern Panhandle and the impact that reducing service may have on Brunswick station, which would likely see increased traffic and parking difficulties.
Even if you don’t wish to speak, showing up as a member of the audience will help to show officials in both West Virginia and Maryland that the MARC has the support of the Eastern Panhandle community.
– Mark Everhart, a member of the Shepherdstown Town Council. is seeking to serve in the House of Delegates