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Efforts to save MARC service praised

December 20, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - State Sen. John Unger and Senator-elect Herb Snyder on Thursday credited the Berkeley County Commission with spearheading efforts to stave off proposed cuts to the MARC commuter train service.

Though optimistic, Snyder said the tentative deal reached Wednesday by Maryland and West Virginia transportation leaders still must clear the Maryland General Assembly, where lawmakers already are "catching a lot of flack" for billions of dollars in budget cuts.

Unger said the deal involves a commitment by West Virginia to shoulder half of the $1 million in operational costs to preserve the MARC service to West Virginia's three train stations in Harpers Ferry, Duffields and Martinsburg. That cost includes labor costs and track rental fees paid to railroad owner CSX Transportation, Unger said.

Snyder estimated Wednesday night that train commuters from the West Virginia stations would be asked to pay up to $2 more per trip fare. MARC riders at a public hearing in November expressed a willingness to shoulder a fare increase, which Unger said had not happened in five or six years.

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Unger credited the commission with sending a letter of concern to Gov. Joe Manchin about the MARC service in advance of the announcement by Maryland's transit administrators proposing across-the-board cuts. Unger said he thought the letter really got the "ball rolling" to intervene.

One of the proposed cuts would terminate the last of three evening trains to the Eastern Panhandle in Brunswick, Md., instead of Martinsburg.

Looking beyond the budget crisis, Bill Yearout, who leads the commission's transportation advisory committee, told the commission Thursday that a third morning train would go a long way to increasing ridership on the last evening train, which is Train 833.

Commissioner William L. "Bill" Stubblefield, the leading proponent of having a letter sent to Manchin about MARC, said Thursday that protecting the commuter service from the proposed cuts was necessary, regardless of the fact that average ridership on Train 883 was fewer than 50 people.

"Our economic development in the future would have taken a substantial step backward," Stubblefield said.

Commissioner Ronald K. Collins said he hoped that the cooperation of the Eastern Panhandle's state lawmakers in the MARC effort would continue in the future with other area concerns.

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