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Howard, Laurel leaders ask CSX for more commuter rail service

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman, left, and Laurel City Council President Ed Ricks signed a letter to railroad company CSX on Monday asking for more commuter passenger service for the Laurel community.
Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman, left, and Laurel City Council President Ed Ricks signed a letter to railroad company CSX on Monday asking for more commuter passenger service for the Laurel community. (Photo courtesy of R. Scott Kramer/Howard)

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman and Laurel City Council President Ed Ricks are joining together to appeal to railroad company CSX Transportation to allow full commuter train service at two stations in Laurel.

Kittleman and Ricks signed a letter to Brian Hammock, CSX resident vice president for state government affairs, on Monday morning, calling for an expansion of passenger rail service that would make it possible for commuter trains to stop at both the downtown Laurel MARC train station and at Laurel Park Station, 2,500 feet to the north.

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Currently, the MARC train, which carries passengers between Baltimore and Washington, makes several stops a day at the station in downtown Laurel, which is in Prince George's County. Laurel Park Station, in Howard County, is a flag stop, used only when there is a passenger waiting on the platform.

CSX, a freight transportation company, owns the tracks. The MARC commuter train is operated by the Maryland Transit Administration.

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"Howard County and the City of Laurel are very much aware of the importance of timely rail service to CSX and the scheduling difficulties brought about by mixing freight and passenger service," Kittleman and Ricks wrote to Hammock. "However, increasing high density mixed-use development in the Greater Laurel area makes it critical that government work with CSX to develop a mutually beneficial schedule that will allow a full stop at Laurel Park to coexist with the existing full stop at the Laurel MARC Train Station."

In an email, CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle wrote that "CSX has been engaged in discussions on this issue with the state of Maryland, and we are happy to continue the dialogue with our state and county partners to develop an appropriate solution to commuters' requirements, while also meeting the critical need to maintain the efficient flow of freight traffic across Maryland."

The letter follows months of concern from Laurel residents and officials that a plan to turn the Laurel Park station into a full-service stop will mean elimination of the train station in downtown Laurel, right off of Main Street.

The Stronach Group, which owns the adjacent Laurel Park race track, has submitted plans to Howard County for a development next to the Laurel Park train station. The development, to be called Laurel Park Station, is heavily focused on the convenience of a train station steps away from the 1,000 residential units and 700,000 square feet of retail, commercial and office space planned for the site.

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Nearby development Hawthorne Place, which has already been approved by the city of Laurel, will add another 1,006 residential units and 150,000 square feet of office and retail space once it is built.

"City of Laurel currently has over 3,000 units either on the drawing board or being built," Ricks said. "So with that kind of development, we need public transportation."

The Laurel station currently serves more than 850 passengers a day, according to Ricks.

Kittleman said expanding public transit would help support development along Route 1 in Howard County, as well.

"We can't keep on building and building and building – we've got to figure out ways to get people to use public transportation," he said.

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