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Commuters speak mind about costs and services of MARC train at public meeting in Charles Town

July 27, 2013|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — About 40 area residents, mostly commuters who ride MARC trains to jobs in the Washington, D.C. area, had their say Saturday at a meeting about the costs and services of their daily rides to and from work.

The session, held in the public meeting room of the Charles Town Library, was called by state Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson/Berkeley, to line up citizen support to convince the West Virginia Legislature to fund Senate Bill 103.

If the bill is funded, MARC (Maryland Area Regional Commuter) would drop a 5-year-old, $80-per-month surcharge that all West Virginia riders pay to make up for the $750,000 per year it costs MARC to provide the Eastern Panhandle commuter service.

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has indicated he would support the funding in the bill, Snyder said.

MARC riders from Martinsburg, W.Va., pay $330 per month, including the surcharge, while riders from Duffields and Harpers Ferry, W.Va., pay $305 per month.

Vincent Hodge of Martinsburg, a daily commuter and member of the MARC Riders Advisory Council, said about 600 Eastern Panhandle residents, mostly from Berkeley and Jefferson counties, ride the trains every day. The trains stop in Harpers Ferry, at Duffields south of Shepherdstown, W.Va., and in Martinsburg.

Two of the three MARC trains that serve the Eastern Panhandle are parked for the night at the end of the run in Martinsburg. There is no room to park the third train. It has to be returned to Brunswick, Md., then returned to Martinsburg for the morning run.

One long-term solution under consideration by Maryland officials is building a new commuter station, parking area and train maintenance facility on open land near the former GM Parts facility west of Martinsburg, Snyder said.

In July 2012, MARC ended some West Virginia train service in Brunswick, and replaced it with free bus service to the three Eastern Panhandle stops for commuters who chose the service. The 22-passenger buses are supplied by PanTran.

One complaint expressed by audience members Saturday is that the buses often are so overcrowded that some passengers have to stand on rides back to the Eastern Panhandle.

Others commuters opt to save the $80 monthly surcharge by driving to Brunswick and getting on trains there. About half of the cars parked at the Brunswick station have West Virginia license plates, Snyder said.

A major benefit of SB103 is that it establishes a permanent interstate agreement between Maryland and West Virginia for commuter rail service to the Eastern Panhandle, he said.

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