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Officials, residents plead to delay cuts in MARC service

November 24, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Local officials and residents pleaded with Maryland Transit Administration officials during a hearing Monday night to delay proposed cuts in the agency's commuter train service, to work with West Virginia officials on funding shortfalls and to look at wider-ranging issues affecting mass transportation.

MARC commuter train riders, local and state elected officials and others packed Martinsburg City Council chambers to oppose proposed cuts in the commuter train service.

The crowd stretched into the hallway and testimony extended more than two hours.

MARC officials told the crowd that funding cuts have forced them to consider options like elimination of MARC train 883, the latest of three trains that arrive in Harpers Ferry, Duffields and Martinsburg. They also are proposing elimination of the 10-trip ticket, which has been prone to abuse but is popular among riders for its ride price discounts.

Riders testified about how the proposed cuts would add more travel time to their already long workdays and give them less flexibility in getting back home at night.

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Sen. John Unger said now is the time to examine the mass transit needs of the region, and he said President-elect Barack Obama has been pushing for new investment in mass transportation.

Unger suggested waiting to see what the Obama administration proposes to possibly take advantage of it on a local level.

Discussion locally has focused on trying to come up with money to help MARC continue train 883, but Unger was viewing it from a wider perspective.

"If we throw money at this, we're just going to be back here next year with a different price tag," said Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson.

State delegates John Doyle, D-Jefferson, John Overington, R-Berkeley, and state Senate-elect Herb Snyder also offered potential solutions.

Riders said one of the reasons they moved to West Virginia was because of the combination of affordable housing and MARC transportation into the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

At the least, riders asked for MARC officials to postpone any action on service cuts for up to six months to give them time to deal with the cuts.

Train 883 could be eliminated Jan. 13, officials have said.

"I just think you need to study this issue from all facets," said Linda Crown, who said she moved to Martinsburg five years ago because of the commuter service.

Simon Taylor, assistant deputy administrator for operations for the Maryland Transit Administration, said the cuts are not something he wants to do. But he said the agency is facing funding shortfalls caused partly by the decrease in gas consumption, which affects Maryland's gas tax revenue.

Taylor said he has corresponded with West Virginia officials about possible funding help from them, but was told that was not likely.

Simon was encouraged at the hearing to keep pushing on possible help from West Virginia.

Maryland Transit Administration officials said they will accept public comment on the proposed cuts until Dec. 26 and possibly will make a decision on the proposals around the end of December.

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