CHARLES TOWN — An Eastern Panhandle lawmaker thinks a tax incentive might help boost the amount of service for West Virginia’s commuter rail service passengers.
Sen. Herb Snyder has introduced a bill that would provide tax incentives to CSX Transportation Inc., which owns the rails used by the Maryland Transit Administration’s Brunswick line, in exchange for an agreement not to charge the MTA a per-mile fee for using the railroad.
“In essence, the bill calls for West Virginia to partner with Maryland,” Snyder said. “It is tied to the level of service. If they run less trains, they get less tax credit. It would not behoove them to cut trains to save money because we are providing the rail access for free. So it’s an incentive for them not to cut trains but to increase trains.”
However, Snyder and other Eastern Panhandle legislators will have to convince senators and delegates from other parts of the state to forgo $800,000 in current tax revenue at MARC’s current service level. And if services increased, this would mean even larger tax credits for CSX.
Snyder acknowledges the bill may be tough to sell to legislators whose constituents have no access to commuter rail lines; the Brunswick line is the only daily commuter line in the state.
“It always is a hard sell – anything with revenue,” Snyder said. “But we do deal with state policy every time we’re in session. And, particularly in dealing state to state, a lot of state policy is about money.”
However, he thinks enough of them are hoping to introduce commuter lines to their communities that the bill has a shot.
“The timing is excellent,” he said. “We’re doing a formal rail plan for the first time, I think, since the 1980s and commuter rail is going to be a major part of the plan.”
Snyder said there is much interest in commute service in the Morgantown area and such an incentive would encourage that. He said there is also interest in running a daily commuter train between Huntington and Charleston.
“And there is even talk of going into Kentucky to pick up workers and vice-versa,” he said, adding provisions that involve a signed agreement between West Virginia and other states that provide rail services are an especially important part of the proposed legislation.
“These interstate commuter rail agreements are used all over the country where rail service is provided out of one state into another,” Snyder said. “To our knowledge, this MARC service – the Brunswick line that comes into West Virginia – is the only interstate commuter rail service that doesn’t have a written agreement.”
If the bill is signed into law, it will require the negotiation of such an agreement before it goes into effect.
Snyder said he is confident Maryland officials will agree to the plan because “it’s in their financial interest to do so, because they would not get billed for $800,000.”
“They’ll sign it,” he said.
Snyder said protecting the rail line also serves the interest of automobile commuters and taxpayers.
“That Brunswick line keeps about 500 cars a day out of the Harpers Ferry gap,” he said. “And, of course, all the roads we drive on are publicly owned and maintained roads – with great expense.”