More seats and better service coming to MARC

WEST BALTIMORE, Md. – Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is using new transportation dollars to revamp and improve MARC train service between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

While the big announcement was the beginning of MARC weekend service on the Penn Line beginning Dec. 7, it is part of a bigger picture on improving the overall experience across the board for passengers.

“We have greatly improved service by purchasing new locomotives. We’re purchasing new double-decker cars so that commuters on the MARC line will have a better chance of getting a seat between Baltimore and Washington,” O’Malley says.

The Maryland Transit Administration is also working with CSX to add two daily round trips on the Camden Line. Howard County Executive Ken Ulman says this will be a big help. Many Howard County residents commute to the District or Baltimore on the Camden line.

“The fact there will be more trains, a more robust schedule, means people could stay at work later, if necessary. They can also be more flexible with their schedule so that they can get home to see their kids, help them out with their homework, go to soccer practice. Having more options is good,” says Ulman.

But unlike the Penn Line, the Camden and Brunswick lines are both CSX-controlled. Amtrak operates the Penn line tracks. Working with CSX makes it more difficult to enhance service because freight travel works on a different schedule than Amtrak passenger service. While MTA has not finalized the two extra Camden round trips, the two sides are close to a deal.

It will cost $52 million to add 10 new diesel locomotives and two more Camden line round trips.

“Whether it’s increasing the frequency of runs on MARC, or bringing in more double-decker cars, we believe that in order to expand opportunity in Maryland and connecting Marylanders to jobs, you’ve got to have the transportation infrastructure in support it and MARC is critical to that,” says Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who is running for governor.

“Marylanders will use mass transit when mass transit is more and more convenient to use. Our goal is do just that – increase the number of runs and (make) sure the experience itself is comfortable and inviting.”

A number of new rail cars are already in place, and another 54 double-deckers will arrive and be put into service between now and the end of 2014. Those purchases didn’t actually come from the new transportation package from the higher gas tax, but is part of the overall strategy that’ll benefit from the new money.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Jim Smith says drivers want to ditch their cars, but not if they have to stand up the entire trip.

“It’s going to make the situation so much better. More people will be able to take MARC and those who take it will be more comfortable. The idea is to create a transportation system that works for people,” he says.

“Standing all the way is not exactly ideal. They do it because they have to if they want to take mass transit. But that’s not the ideal, and it’s not what we want. We want more people to use it, so we have to improve the service to attract them to utilize the MARC.”

The issue is one also being felt across the Potomac. Virginia Railway Express (VRE) has been dealing with over-capacity trains as well. In July, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) approved $19.8 million for VRE to purchase nine new coaches. However, the money will not be available until a court rules on Del. Bob Marshall’s lawsuit against the NVTA. VRE currently has 78 rail coaches on the Manassas and Fredericksburg lines.

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