Future Of MARC Commuter Train In Eastern Panhandle Still Uncertain
Local municipalities in the Eastern Panhandle have come together to provide some funding for the Maryland Area Regional Commuter, or MARC train, but it remains unclear if it will be enough to keep the service in West Virginia.
On Tuesday, the Shepherdstown Town Council approved $2,800 toward funding the MARC train service.
Shepherdstown’s contribution joins seven others made by local municipalities in the area. Those eight entities — Shepherdstown, Ranson, Charles Town, Harpers Ferry, Bolivar, Martinsburg, the Berkeley County Council, and the Jefferson County Commission — collectively agreed in October to pull together a one-time amount of $300,000 to put toward keeping MARC in the area through this fiscal year.
During the 2019 West Virginia Legislative session, Maryland requested $3.4 million to keep the MARC service in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle. The Legislature agreed to fund $1.1 million.
Maryland accepted that at the time, but then in August, announced there would be a reduction in MARC service in West Virginia if the entire amount was not paid by Nov. 4. Recently, that deadline was extended to the end of the month.
At least 250 West Virginians ride the MARC train, daily throughout the work week, according to the Maryland Transit Authority. Eastern Panhandle state lawmakers argue, however, that number is between 300 and 400.
Finding A Funding Fix For MARC In W.Va.
The $300,000 contribution from local communities in the Eastern Panhandle is part of a larger funding fix.
According to Chief of Staff Mike Hall, the Justice administration agreed to fund the remaining $2 million Maryland is requesting if local entities came up with $300,000.
The plan is a short-term fix that will hopefully lead to a permanent funding solution, said Del. John Doyle, a Democrat from Jefferson County, who attended the Shepherdstown Town Council meeting this week
“If we’re gonna have a long-term plan, we have to save it in the short run,” he said. “And the only way to save it in the short run was to come up with enough money so that the governor said, yes we’ll do it.”
While the eight municipalities have raised most of the required $300,000, the Jefferson County Commission only provided $40,000, or half of its share, according to Doyle.
In an emailed statement from the Jefferson County Commission, Commission President Patricia Noland said the MARC train funding was an “unbudgeted expense.” She said funding came from a contingency fund, and their contribution was all the commission felt it could afford.
In a phone conversation with Del. Eric Householder, chairman of the House Finance Committee, he said he’s hopeful the governor will support the MARC service despite not having a total amount of $300,000 from local entities, and he said, going forward, a solution for MARC has to be found.
“I think it’s imperative that we increase the ridership,” Householder said. “That’s the number one goal, I believe, for the MARC train to be sustainable for us here in the Eastern Panhandle.”
Moving forward, Householder said having local municipalities take on some of the costs each year should be part of the overall budget for MARC in West Virginia. He argues, this will make it easier to secure funding from the Legislature if other lawmakers see Eastern Panhandle entities paying part of the bill.
Del. Doyle, however, disagrees and feels the cost should fall on the state. He argues many other major public transportation systems in other states are paid for completely by their state legislatures and not local municipalities.
West Virginia Public Broadcasting reached out to the governor’s office to ask if Gov. Justice would still be willing to fund the MARC train, despite the current shortfall. A spokesperson said they do not have a statement at this time.
West Virginia has until Nov. 30 to provide the remaining funding request to Maryland, otherwise, the service to West Virginia will be reduced from six trains per day to two.