West Virginia officials discussing subsidizing MARC service

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Photo - MARC schedule changes have prompted West Virginia officials to consider kicking in funds to the commuter train service. (Examiner file photo)
MARC schedule changes have prompted West Virginia officials to consider kicking in funds to the commuter train service. (Examiner file photo)
Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir

West Virginia officials are looking at kicking in money to the MARC train service to ensure that its riders aren't shortchanged on service.

Discussions involving commuters and officials began after they realized that service to the three commuter train stations in West Virginia would be reduced under a new schedule change that will take effect July 16. Representatives of state officials and the congressional delegation attended, including staff from the office of U.S. Sen. John Rockefeller, said MARC Riders Advisory Council member and longtime commuter Vince Hodge.

"The senator is supportive of maintaining service to West Virginia," said Rockefeller spokeswoman Abbie McDonough, who confirmed that his staff have been involved with some of the recent discussions.

But Hodge noted no dollar amounts have been determined, no legislation introduced.

"Right now it's nothing more than a discussion," he said. "We've lost the battle on the schedule. The next step is to move beyond."

Currently about 450 people get on the commuter train's Brunswick Line at one of the three West Virginia stations each day, according to the Maryland Transit Administration, which runs the commuter service.

At one point, West Virginia did contribute to the train service, but it pulled out. Then, when Maryland threatened to stop the service before crossing the state line a few years ago, a compromise was reached for every West Virginia rider to pay a fee: $2 per one-way trip, $20 per week or $80 per monthly pass.

But even with the surcharge, the cost does not cover the expense of running the service, said MTA spokesman Terry Owens. That leaves Maryland taxpayers to cover the difference between riders' fares and the actual cost of operating the system.

For Maryland riders, it's a straightforward issue. MARC Riders Advisory Council head Rafael Guroian said that as a Maryland taxpayer, he's helping subsidize West Virginians' rides.

"If they want service, they have to pay," added Miriam Schoenbaum, who rides three days a week from the Boyds stop in Montgomery County to her job as a statistician.

Yet West Virginia riders feel they are losing out in the meantime.

Maryland officials have been trying to adjust the schedule on the Brunswick Line since December. But after riders' expressed outrage at the initial proposal, state officials started over, seeking more rider input. A second draft sparked other concerns. And now a new, final version is slated to take effect this month.

But riders say it doesn't please everyone. Hodge said West Virginia riders are especially unhappy as the final leg of some of their already two-hour trips each way will be on a bus because the train won't run all the way to Martinsburg, W.Va.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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