MARC trains at night and on weekends? Not soon

Ari Ashe,

WASHINGTON – Rail systems in major cities like New York and Philadelphia routinely offer service from the city to the suburbs all day and on weekends.

However, for Marylanders who don’t live near a Metro station, that isn’t an option. MARC only runs during rush hours and never on the weekends.

But could that change?

The Maryland Transit Authority released a “MARC Growth and Investment Plan” in September 2007 to do just that.

However, several obstacles remain in the way.

Amtrak and CSX own and control the rails, meaning the Maryland Transit Authority would need their approval first.

Also, the plan would cost about $4 billion and would take until 2035 to be complete, involving a massive overhaul of the entire system.

“Those trains are crowded. Those commuter rails would be more heavily used, if we could have trips go on throughout the day. But, there is no money for it,” says Gus Bauman, who chaired a Commission on Transportation Funding in 2011.

“So they do what they can to buy new rail cars for the existing lines and the existing times. But in terms of turning it into a Long Island Railroad (LIRR) operation, there is no money that allows us to do it, even though everyone sees the need for it.”

LIRR, as the New York-area commuter rail system is commonly called, runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

But Bauman’s report found that the Transportation Trust Fund, which funds projects across the state, including any MARC expansion, will run out of money in several years without additional funding.

Bauman called for a higher gas tax, increasing MVA fees and raising fares and tolls on roads, buses and bridges across Maryland to raise about $800 million annually for the fund.

Among those fares, a 25 percent hike on MARC trains and other MTA buses, which would raise $30 million annually.

“I’m convinced that if we protect the Transportation Trust Fund, replenish it, and build it back up, these major projects that we need, we can start building them within the decade,” says Bauman.

The Maryland Transit Authority points to record ridership, congestion on local roads and BRAC expansion as important reasons to consider MARC expansion.

According to the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. and Maryland Department of Transportation, BRAC will add 20,000 to 26,000 jobs near Fort Meade by 2016, with MARC being the only rail system serving the area.

For his part, Gov. Martin O’Malley mentioned in his Year In Review last week that he wants to double transit users by 2020.

“The only way we’re actually going to be able to hit this goal is if we find the political will necessary to make the investments in the Red Line, the Purple Line and the other sorts of improvements,” says Governor O’Malley.

However, Gov. O’Malley did not mention MARC as part of those plans.

Follow @KateRyanWTOP, Ari and @WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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