CHARLES TOWN — A bill that would preserve MARC passenger rail services to the Eastern Panhandle by providing tax breaks to rail line owners passed through the state Senate yesterday, a first.
“This is the fifth session I have introduced it, and we finally got it through,” says Sen. Herb Snyder. “This is the first time that it moved.”
In order to serve the Eastern Panhandle, the MARC train uses track owned by CSX Transportation Inc., and is charged substantial per-mile fees by CSX for using their tracks.
The bill — SB 103 — would mean tax breaks for CSX in return for providing use of the railroads they own to the MARC system free of charge. The bill will only come into effect if officials from West Virginia, MARC and CSX are able to successfully negotiate a signed agreement.
Snyder said that such an agreement, along with West Virginia’s willingness to show that it has “skin in the game,” should keep the commuter train from further cutting service to Berkeley and Jefferson counties.
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.”
“If they run less trains, they get less tax credit,” Snyder said previously. “It would not behoove them to cut trains to save money because we are providing the rail access for free. So its an incentive for them not to cut trains but to increase trains.”
Subsidizing MARC’s use of CSX’s rail lines is expected to reduce state revenues by some $800,000, making the bill a potentially difficult sell to legislators in other parts of the state that would not benefit from it.
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.”
Snyder said he was confident the bill would get a good reception in the House of Delegates.
“That is extremely good news for the MARC train service in Jefferson and Berkeley counties,” he continued. “I’ve got some work to do on the House side, but I think that we are in good shape.”