A few hundred people attended a public hearing in Charles Town over the weekend regarding the future of the MARC train service, or Maryland Area Regional Commuter, in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle. Maryland is asking West Virginia to either foot the bill or see a reduction in service.
The MARC train, based in Maryland, has six trains that service West Virginia every weekday. It’s been serving West Virginia commuters living in the Eastern Panhandle since the 1970s, but West Virginia has largely never paid for the service. Ridership over the years has declined, but an estimated 250 West Virginians use the train daily, according to the Maryland Transit Administration, or MTA.
The MTA is requesting $3.4 million from West Virginia or it will cut four of those six trains starting on Nov. 4.
Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said many at the hearing want the MTA to give West Virginia at least one more year to find the money and keep the service as it is.
“If it is cut back, some people would probably lose their jobs. Many people would in fact clog the highways with even more cars than there are now,” Doyle said.
Sen. Finance Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said the MARC train is a positive for West Virginia, and he agrees that more time would be helpful to sort out the situation, however, he said he thinks it is unlikely the MTA will give that additional time.
Blair urges local municipalities and stakeholders to work together to find a local funding solution to keep the train service running.
“They need to actually help, too, and that’s where the money could potentially come from,” he said.
Blair also said he feels the West Virginia State Rail Authority should collect a “true” headcount of West Virginia riders. Blair and other officials argue there are more riders than the 250 claimed by the MTA.
Maryland Department of Transportation MTA will accept written comments through Oct. 7. Comments can be sent by mail emailed to HearingComments@mdot.maryland.gov.
During this public comment period, the agency said it is open to discussions with the West Virginia Rail Authority regarding the proposed changes.