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MARC extension to Morgan Co. to be studied

September 29, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A federal grant announced Thursday will fund a study to explore extending commuter rail service from Martinsburg to Morgan County, W.Va.

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The $50,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission will be used to study the viability of extending the existing MARC service from Martinsburg into Hancock, W.Va., Morgan County Commissioner Phil Maggio said.

Since train tracks are already in place, supporters of the plan hope to convince officials with MARC and CSX, which operates the Brunswick Line between Washington and Martinsburg, that it would be wise to extend the service, Maggio said.

"Everything is there. Now we have to prove that it's an intelligent thing to do," he said.

CSX, which operates two Maryland Rail Commuter lines under contract, could not be reached for comment late Wednesday afternoon.

Extending train service the 23 miles from Martinsburg into Hancock would shave up to an hour from the drive time for Morgan County residents who must now travel to Martinsburg to catch trains into Washington, D.C., Maggio said.

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While Berkeley Springs, W.Va., is just five minutes from Hancock, it can take between 45 minutes and an hour to drive the hilly length of W.Va. 9 between Berkeley Springs and Martinsburg, Maggio said.

It is difficult to pinpoint how many commuters make that drive each day, but rough estimates put the number between 30 and 40, Maggio said.

"We feel a lot more commuters are using the highway because they don't want the hassle of driving an hour, parking and then waiting for the train," Maggio said.

Extending the line into Hancock could also prove attractive to commuters in parts of Maryland and Pennsylvania who might take advantage of the train service, Maggio said.

Another selling point for the plan centers on using the Hancock station as a place to store trains at night, Maggio said.

The Martinsburg station has no place for train storage, which creates "dead track time" when trains must be taken to Brunswick, Md., for the evening, Maggio said.

Extra tracks at the Hancock station could be used for storage, and one plan calls for the possibility of building a structure there to handle the trains, Maggio said.

A timeline for the study has not been set, but Maggio said officials from Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia will be meeting soon to discuss the matter.

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said in a prepared release he hopes the study will conclude the commuter rail should go into Morgan County.

"Since so many people from Morgan County drive to Martinsburg to take the train, it only makes sense that we look into providing rail transportation closer to home," he said.

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