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baltimoresun.com

New train station in Edgewood is a nice idea, but it won't fix the commuter rail problem

EDITORIAL FROM THE AEGIS

1:37 PM EDT, September 25, 2012

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For most of us, a trip to New York City means there will be rides on the Subway. Visits to Washington, D.C., are much more palatable when parking problems are traded for train rides on the Metro. Go to San Francisco or Oakland, Calif., and odds are a ride on the BART (short for Bay Area Transit) will be part of the itinerary. Chicago has its L (short for elevated). Boston has the T (short for transportation).

Here in the greater Baltimore region, though, train transport is a realistic option only for commuters whose schedules are as regimented and predictable as the days of the week. Sure, we in Harford County have access to the MARC commuter rail line that takes advantage of the Amtrak rails to get passengers from stops in Perryville, Aberdeen, Edgewood and Middle River to Baltimore and beyond, but don't work late enough to miss that last train home, or you'll need to take a taxi, call a relative or spend the night downtown.

At a cost of $5 million, the train station in Edgewood is being turned into a more inviting place than it has been for much of the MARC line's existence. This is a small step in the direction of improving the rail transport system serving Harford County and greater Baltimore, probably too small to make much of a difference to anyone but the folks already using the trains, and their numbers are large. The Edgewood station has long been one of the busiest on the MARC Penn Line north of Baltimore, its lack of amenities notwithstanding.

The problem is one of crowded tracks, and it has been since the MARC system started. Though often criticized for losing billions, Amtrak actually has a record of breaking even or making money in the northeast corridor — which includes Baltimore and Washington — because trains are frequent and well used. As a result, adding regular runs of local trains like the MARC to the Amtrak lines is a physical impossibility. There just isn't enough time between trains already using the tracks to allow more to be scheduled.

When such a situation exists on a road or highway, more lanes or new roads are built. New rail lines, however, are a harder sell, even in areas like these parts where convenient and reliable local trains are likely to have a potential customer base of car commuters weary of waiting in traffic jams on highways with double digit lane counts in some places.

Sure, the new Edgewood MARC station will be nicer than what's already in place, but it won't do much to make commuter rail travel more appealing to more Harford County residents. It's going to take more trains — and more tracks — to make that happen.