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Push on for extending commuter train service

March 11, 2005|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Extending commuter train service from Martinsburg to Morgan County, W.Va., could help solve two problems: It might help eliminate noise from trains that idle overnight in Martinsburg, and would reduce travel time for commuters who live in Morgan County, officials said Thursday.

Susan Webster, mayor of the town of Bath, the local government in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., said she has been trying to obtain commuter service for residents of Berkeley Springs and other Morgan County communities since 1993.

Webster did not have an exact figure, but estimated that about 25 Morgan County residents drive to Martinsburg to catch commuter trains en route to Washington, D.C.

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Commuters also travel from western Washington County and Fulton County, Pa., Webster said after Thursday night's Martinsburg City Council meeting.

Extending commuter service 23 miles farther west to Morgan County could mean that fewer or no trains would have to idle at a layover facility behind Boyd Avenue in Martinsburg.

Boyd Avenue residents, including Virginia Pledger, have been frustrated since last summer by noise and vibration caused by the idling train engines.

Pledger, a mainstay at City Council meetings, updated Council members on the problem. She said that earlier this week the vibration caused a gas line to her house to crack. Had she not been home and smelled the gas leaking, her house could have exploded, she said.

Pledger has said that the noise starts at around 6:45 p.m. and continues until about 6:30 a.m., with as many as six engines idling.

Extending rail service farther west would not hoist the noise and vibration problems onto another community.

Webster has proposed that the new layover facility be built near Hancock, W.Va., in an area where there are no homes or businesses. The plot of land instead consists of cornfields and tree groves, and is near the Potomac River.

Building a new layover facility likely would cost around $5 million, she said.

"The money hurdle is rather dismal for us, but we're not giving up," Webster told Council members. "Believe me, we're here to help you if we can."

Prompted by complaints from Boyd Avenue residents, a second noise study was conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration last year.

City attorney Claudia Bentley said Thursday that the study showed the noise does not violate federal noise regulations, but does exceed federal guidelines for noise levels that affect people.

A Federal Railroad Administration official has recommended that MARC and CSX officials meet to discuss reducing the noise levels, Bentley said. CSX owns the railroad tracks that MARC trains use for passenger service.

Councilman Donald Anderson proposed that if a solution is not reached, a nuisance hearing be held.

"If we have to shut them down, we'll do that," Anderson said. "These people have suffered enough."

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