CHARLES TOWN – Talks between West Virginia and Maryland over a long-term agreement to preserve MARC service in the Eastern Panhandle are set to begin soon, says Jefferson County Sen. Herb Snyder.
[cleeng_content id="487920386" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]A pair of rail meetings held Saturday in Charles Town gave passengers and rail officials the chance to discuss priorities for both the state’s upcoming rail plan and the agreement with MARC.
“This was a preliminary meeting to hear from the commuters themselves what they would like to have in the long-term agreement,” Snyder said.
“This is the beginning of the talks to implement SB 103, which is the Commuter Rail Access Act,” Snyder said. “I talked with Secretary (Paul) Maddox and I am very optimistic that we are going to get this done. There is going to be a good working relationship with the state of Maryland after 30 years of doing the whole service on the fly with no formal agreement.”
As a part of that agreement, which SB 103 authorized, the state will make direct payments to Maryland to pay the $18 per mile fee that CSX charges MARC for using its railways.
“The only thing to offset that is the fee,” said Snyder, referring to the $2 surcharge added to the tickets of West Virginia commuters. “Four years ago when we nearly lost all the train service, Maryland was in the midst of a budget crisis and asked West Virginia to contribute a half a million dollars. At that time they were losing a million. The former governor was not willing to do that.
“We came extremely close to losing all three trains into West Virginia, and that’s when the $2 fee was added to all the tickets,” Snyder said.
In the last legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly imposed higher gasoline taxes, with part of the additional revenue going toward the provision of rail service. The state also decided to raise the cost of each train ticket in the whole MARC system by $1, to help pay for the continuing service.
“It has been quite a while that the state of Maryland has been underwriting all of this, and it is time for West Virginia to step up to the plate and contribute,” Snyder said. “What we are doing now is working on actually getting it into the budget and getting a formal agreement. The agreement will be an anchor that will keep that service healthy many decades into the future. That is my goal.”
The interstate agreement could involve other factors beyond offsetting CSX’s fee, such as the number of daily train trips into the state.
Snyder said commuters primary request from the agreement will be that MARC lift the $2 surcharge for West Virginia riders.
“Clearly, they would like to see that commuter fee for West Virginia reduced or eliminated,” Snyder said. “I do believe that that is going to happen.”
The current service MARC provides to the Eastern Panhandle is also limited by the amount of yard space available at the Martinsburg station. Snyder said state rail officials are looking into providing additional space to allow MARC to add more daily runs into the state.
“The one bottleneck is the lack of yard space. They have very limited space in Martinsburg to park their trains. They can only fit three trains,” Snyder said.
“To expand that yard – there is a creek right beside it, and to expand into that would be an environmental problem,” he said. “We’re looking right now at where we could build a train yard out here on the Martinsburg end of the line for them.”
The state rail plan could involve several other impacts on area rail assets, including bringing the three West Virginia stations on the MARC line into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires facilities at all rail stations that enable handicapped individuals to access train service. None of the three stations is currently ADA compliant.
Snyder argues preserving the train service is important to the state’s economy, as well as its coffers.
“It really is part of who we are in the Eastern Panhandle, so that people have the opportunity to work in the D.C. metropolitan area, where they make a significant income and pay West Virginia income tax,” he said.