MARC unveils ‘final’ schedule change

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 next week to the MARC Advisory Council, Owens explained in a phone interview on Friday.
The new schedule, made public this week, includes a much-decried change: the elimination of late train service to the Brunswick Line’s three West Virginia stops. Under the plan, a commuter bus would take travelers onto Harpers Ferry, Duffields and Martinsburg. Owens said the new schedule will go into effect July 16.
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.”
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 Friday. “They’d like it to be over, but I know that they’re still getting tremendous criticism from riders.”
The schedule released late this week 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 during business hours on Friday.
Vince Hodge, a longtime MARC rider who lives in Martinsburg, is one of the West Virginia representatives on the MARC Advisory Council. He plans to attend Thursday’s meeting in D.C., where the new schedule is on the agenda.
Hodge said Friday that 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 afternoondeparture 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 Friday afternoon that 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 i mportant 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.”

 

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