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W.Va. lawmakers form plan to save rail service

December 01, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Area lawmakers Monday unanimously agreed to send a letter to Gov. Joe Manchin, asking him to consider a new plan to help them stop a proposed reduction in MARC commuter train service in Berkeley and Jefferson counties.

Train 883, the last to leave Washington's Union Station, would end at Brunswick, Md., instead of making its last stop in Martinsburg if the proposed reduction in service is put into effect next year, according to the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA), which operates MARC.

The letter to Manchin, spearheaded by Democrat Herb Snyder, who recently was elected to represent the 16th District in the state Senate, and agreed upon at an Eastern Panhandle caucus, makes a number of suggestions. One asks MTA to raise fares by $1 at West Virginia's three stations to help close an apparent $350,000 gap in funding.

The state of West Virginia and/or local governments could then more easily come up with the remainder, which Snyder said would amount to about $78,000, based on current ridership numbers.

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"We want West Virginia to be seen as more of a partner in this," said Snyder, who was tapped by the delegation to chair the caucus.

A draft of the letter expected to be sent to Manchin today concludes that area lawmakers "feel that the failure to work collaboratively with MTA in solving this problem and maintaining our current level of service will have ramifications that may threaten the entire West Virginia MARC train service in the future."

The $1 increase was suggested at a public hearing last week about the proposed reduction in service and Snyder said area lawmakers since then have been e-mailing each other about the issue.

Aside from paying for utilities, maintenance and capital improvements at the Harpers Ferry, Duffields and Martinsburg stations, West Virginia does not shoulder the burden of MARC's fuel costs and other operational expenses with MTA, officials have said. Prior agreements between the states in the 1980s and early '90s provided for a monetary allocation, but that subsidy was replaced with the current station maintenance-oriented agreement. A new five-year agreement that was signed in February continues the arrangement.

"I personally think that the local governments ought to be willing to kick in something," Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said Monday evening.

MARC officials told a standing-room-only crowd last week at Martinsburg City Hall that funding cuts forced them to consider options like elimination of MARC Train 883. They also are proposing elimination of the 10-trip ticket.

Del. Walter Duke. R-Berkeley, said he left the hearing last week with the impression that riders would rather pay more per fare than lose the "safety net" of having Train 883 to take home, if needed. The current fare for Martinsburg is $10 per one-way trip, and the fare for Duffields and Harpers Ferry is $9.

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