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MARC line proposed for Hancock, W.Va.

November 11, 1997

MARC line proposed for Hancock, W.Va.

By DON AINES

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - The feasibility of bringing MARC commuter rail service to Hancock, W.Va., may be a chicken or the egg argument: Are there enough commuters to justify extending the line from Martinsburg, or will extending the line create enough commuters?

The idea to approach the Maryland Transportation Authority to extend service was raised Friday by the Morgan County Commission. Commissioner Phil Maggio said Monday there will be a meeting at 7 p.m. Dec. 4 at the courthouse to discuss the proposal.

"Hopefully, we'll come out of that meeting with a committee that's a collaboration between the three entities," Maggio said. In addition to the commission, he said the towns of Bath, W.Va., and Hancock, Md., would be involved.

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"I know of several people who make the drive into Martinsburg every day" to catch MARC trains, Maggio said. He said service in Morgan County would encourage more people to move to the area.

Martinsburg, W.Va., is the end of MARC's Brunswick Line, according to Kathy Waters, the manager of MARC operations. MARC picks up about 150 people a day in Martinsburg.

Waters said a study of ridership and cost-effectiveness would be needed before MARC approached CSX with a proposal. CSX owns the rail line and has the ultimate say on its use, she said.

According to Waters, a study several years ago concluded that rail service for a much larger community - Hagerstown - was not cost-effective.

The number of potential commuters in Morgan County and western Washington County remains a question. Maggio said the first thing he'd recommend is a survey of the area to determine potential ridership.

Hancock, Md., Mayor Daniel A. Murphy said a MARC line would definitely benefit Hancock residents.

"We have a significant number of our population right now that work inside the Beltway and that's got to be a tough commute," he said.

Other people could ride the train to and from Martinsburg rather than take W.Va. 9, Murphy said.

Murphy suggested that a six- to eight-month trial could determine if the service made sense.

Hancock, Md., Town Manager Louis O. Close said Hancock has plenty of room to expand on the orchard property west of town for potential MARC commuters.

Just as important as the number of people traveling from Morgan County to Washington is the number traveling in the opposite direction.

"It would bring more tourists to our area and allow us to become even more of a bedroom community than we are now," said Bath Mayor Susan Webster.

Webster said the line could be an economic boon to Hancock and other Western Maryland communities, by allowing people to commute to higher-paying jobs in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.

She said the train station in Hancock, W.Va., was used for Amtrak service until it was discontinued a number of years ago. It's five miles from Berkeley Springs and just across the river from Hancock, Md.

Maggio said he is looking three to five years down the line, but "the sooner we get started, the sooner we start riding the train."

Staff writer Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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