Maryland leaders make push to expand MARC service into DC, Virginia

A Maryland Transit Administration’s MARC commuter train wagon sits on an inspection track at New Jersey Transit’s Meadows Maintenance Complex, Tuesday, May 1, 2018, in Kearny, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

State officials, business leaders and transit advocates testified Thursday in front of the Maryland House Environment and Transportation Committee to make the case for expanding MARC train service farther into D.C. and Virginia.

House Bill 1236 would establish a pilot program for expanded service for MARC trains beyond Union Station, into L’Enfant Plaza and down into Northern Virginia.

Advocates for the bill argued that it would keep Maryland competitive with Virginia’s commitments to improving their own train system through Amtrak.

One of the biggest benefits of the pilot program that was touted by advocates was the ability to complete a “one-seat ride” aboard a MARC train. Currently, riders of MARC trains must transfer at Union Station to continue into D.C. or Virginia.

Comparisons to Virginia’s ongoing efforts to improve the quality of their rail services were repeated throughout the hearing.

In a news release before the hearing, Del. Jared Solomon, D-Montgomery County, a sponsor of the bill, said the expansion would prove vital to continue growing the state’s economy.

“It is imperative Maryland keeps pace with our neighbors and develops competitive infrastructure to ensure seamless interstate connectivity, and enhance access to jobs and economic opportunity,” Solomon said. “This bill will help maximize the potential of our MARC commuter rail system in achieving those goals.”

Herbert Harris Jr. with the Brotherhood of Local Engineers and Trainmen called the pilot program a “baby step” toward where Maryland’s rail transit system ultimately should be.

“This is a piece of legislation that is a first step in the right direction for the state of Maryland regarding expanding commuter rail service,” Harris said. “The potential to offer Marylanders a one-seat ride to the employment centers in the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia will significantly expand job and other educational opportunities for Marylanders.”

Andy VanHorn, executive vice president of JBG Smith, said the pilot program would allow people from Maryland to take part in job market growth in Northern Virginia as a result of the development of Amazon’s HQ2 and the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus.

“Sustaining that growth will require attracting large numbers of knowledge workers from across the region — the majority are going to have to commute by public transportation,” VanHorn said. “With its highly educated workforce and robust transit network, Maryland is really poised to benefit from this trend.”

Tricia Swanson, vice president of government relations at the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, told the committee that the pilot program would help to attract the workforce that businesses in the region want.

“We polled our board of directors and member companies, which vary in terms of size and industry, last summer and asked them what is the top thing on your mind and, above anything else, the answer was talent. Attracting and retaining top talent,” Swanson said. “And, if you look at what the talent is concerned with, transportation is on the tops of their minds.”

The bill would need a positive referral from the committee in order to advance to the Maryland House floor.

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