More than 1,200 passengers boarded MARC trains Saturday for round trips on the first full day of weekend service on the commuter rail line, the Maryland Transit Administration said.
The MTA released figures Sunday showing 2,465 boardings — 1,235 southbound toward Union Station in Washington and 1,230 northbound to Penn Station in Baltimore. The numbers do not include the elected officials, MTA employees and other guests who took part in the kickoff ceremonies Saturday.
Weekend service on the busy Penn Line has long been a goal of Baltimore transit advocates and a part of the MTA's long-term plans. After the General Assembly provided a new stream of transportation revenue this year with an increased gas tax, an expansion of MARC to weekend service was one of the first projects announced by Gov. Martin O'Malley.
The MTA ran nine trains in each direction Saturday, with ridership peaking at midday and again in early evening. The last southbound train at 9:15 p.m. and last northbound train at 10:35 p.m. each carried about 70 to 80 riders.
The MTA began running six trains in each direction Sunday. Ridership figures were not available, but MTA spokeswoman Paulette Austrich said ridership was expected to be low because of the snow.
MTA Administrator Robert L. Smith said he was pleased by the first-day response. He said there was a good crowd for the 10:02 a.m. departure from Union Station.
"As we stood there to board, all of us were rather pleasantly surprised," he said.
The ridership was far below the estimated weekday average of about 25,000 a day on the Penn Line, but the cars did not appear deserted because MARC was running two- and three-car trains rather than the typical six- to eight-car trains used at peak hours on weekdays, Smith said.
Smith said he expects weekend ridership to grow, giving the MTA a good gauge of the level of interest in about 3 to 6 months. He said the MTA would continue to work with such partners as Live Baltimore and Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport to promote the weekend service.
"We believe there's buy-in for it from both the Baltimore and Washington markets," he said. "It's a cumulative effect."
Smith predicted that ridership will grow as spring and summer bring more outdoor events in each city, adding that he expects the Orioles season to bring a surge in interest.
"Right now we're really happy with the buzz that's out there," he said.