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Planning for a rail link

May 19, 1997

Within the next three or four years, it will become considerably easier to commute from the Tri-state area to the Washington, D.C. area by rail, thanks to a new link between Frederick and the existing CSX Brunswick line announced last week. And while the immediate effect will be less congestion on Interstate 270, the new line will bring some changes in this region as well.

The Brunswick line now carries 5,500 commuters a day. Adding two stations - in downtown Frederick and near the Francis Scott Key Mall - will undoubtedly attract more riders from this area, riders who may have hesitated to commute when their only choice was a bumper-to-bumper ride on the interstate.

But the other possibility is that rail service to Frederick will make it more attractive for those living in places like Rockville and Gaithersburg to move further out. In exchange for spending a few more minutes on the train each weekday, they can wake up in the country on the weekends.

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If you doubt that this is a possibility, consider how development has sprung up around interstate exits, and how residential developers in the D.C. area already advertise their access to the Metro subway system. It's not much of a stretch to imagine new developments in this region being advertised as "just minutes away from the new MARC rail station."

This will be a great development for those who believe that growth is always good, but whether it is or not will depend on whether local governments anticipate that growth and plan for it.

Before the rail line is built, we'd like to see local governments (perhaps working jointly) identify likely sites where rail lines will spark residential development. The next step is to assess whether roads and schools are up to handling additional loads of cars and students. The final step should be surveying current commuters on how their method of getting to the job influences where they live.

Will this be a lot of work? No doubt, but less work than dealing with an unexpected increase in traffic, students and just plain aggravation.

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