CHARLES TOWN – Ask MARC spokesman Terry Owens if the latest changes for Eastern Panhandle train commuters are indeed final, and you get something close to a straight answer.
The revised schedule will be presented Thursday to the MARC Riders’ Advisory Council, Owens explained in a phone interview.
But ask state Sen. Herb Snyder if the schedule changes are a done deal and you’ll hear this answer: “I do not know. I’m trying to find that out. In my opinion, I’d say this is a tentative schedule. I would say that it’s not over.”
The revised schedule, made public late last week, includes a much-decried change: the elimination of late train service to the Brunswick Line’s three West Virginia stops. Under the newest plan, a commuter bus would take travelers onto Harpers Ferry, Duffields and Martinsburg. Owens said the new schedule will go into effect July 16.
MARC officials clearly want this version to gain acceptance, Snyder said. “They’ve been trying to get this major schedule change done for eight months now,” the Jefferson County Democrat said. “They’d like it to be over, but I know that they’re still getting tremendous criticism from riders.”
The new schedule is the third try for MARC since November. Two earlier versions of a revamped schedule were debated in town halls held in Charles Town and in Frederick and Montgomery counties in Maryland. Changes met with much criticism from riders and locally elected officials in both states, first in January and again in May after that initial schedule was revamped and put out again for public comment.
Snyder isn’t sure if Paul Mattox, West Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation, has yet sent a formal protest of the changes to Maryland transit officials as Snyder has requested. Calls to Mattox’s office and his media spokesman weren’t returned.
Vince Hodge, a longtime MARC rider who lives in Martinsburg, is one of the West Virginia representatives on MARC’s riders advisory panel. He plans to attend Thursday’s meeting in D.C., where the new schedule is on the agenda.
Hodge said he’ll continue to work with Herb Snyder and Delegate Larry Kump, R-Berkeley, to try and get a schedule that doesn’t make life more difficult for West Virginia commuters.
“Both of them have sent letters of concern to Secretary of Transportation Mattox,” Hodge said. “The hope is that the secretary has sent or will send a letter of protest regarding the still-significant
afternoon departure time changes being imposed on West Virginia riders
out of Washington. I’m hearing there has been some discussion with
Gov. [Earl Ray] Tomblin as well.”
Owens said he wasn’t aware of any formal communication between Mattox and his Maryland counterparts. “That isn’t to say it hasn’t happened or isn’t happening,” the MARC spokesman said. “But I’m not aware of any such discussion.”
Hodge is hopeful that high-level officials from West Virginia will weigh in. “I’m thinking that the only way this change could be halted or
postponed at this point would be for communication at the highest
level on behalf of the West Virginia riders,” he said. “I’d like to think that maybe
they’d listen to our Governor Tomblin, but who knows?”
Snyder says that he’ll also continue to push for a resolution that works for Panhandle commuters. He added that an equally important issue is establishing West Virginia as a partner with Maryland in providing commuter train service in the Panhandle.
“In the long term, this is one battle,” Snyder said. “In the long-term, there’s nothing about the commuter service that can’t be undone or improved on. My greatest, greatest concern is that West Virginia can be a part of the decision-making in all the years ahead. The demands for mass transit are becoming greater and greater.
“Just as important as this change is our ability to secure the train service in West Virginia for the future.”
Said Owens: “We’re certainly always open to working with West Virginia.”