Led by Laurel City Council President Ed Ricks, dozens of residents gathered in the parking lot of the Laurel MARC train station Wednesday morning, chanting "save our stop" in unison and hoisting signs to protest the Maryland Department of Transportation potentially closing the MARC stop and moving it closer to the racetrack.
In a sea of signs reading, "Keep our train on Main," and "Don't railroad us out of Old Town," Ricks announced a grass roots effort to save the station alongside state and local representatives, including District 21 Sen. Jim Rosapepe, Dels. Barbara Frush and Joseline Peña-Melnyk, Prince George's County Councilwoman Mary Lehman, Laurel Historical Society Executive Director Lindsey Baker and C Street Flats developer Jim Callard.
"Our railroad station is 184 years old," Ricks said. "She has stood the test of time. She has been here for us when we've needed something, when we've had serious accidents, fires or whatever. She's always been there and we want to make sure she's here for you all forever."
The plan would move the train stop about 2,500 feet north, into Howard County and adjacent to Laurel Park racetrack, where a mixed-use development is planned. A train platform is already at the location but the stop is listed as a flag stop on the MARC Camden line schedule.
Ricks said the Laurel train station currently serves more than 880 passengers a day, with many commuters living within walking distance of the platform.
"We're starting a development predicating on the fact that you could live on Main Street and that you could walk to the railroad station," he said. "That is green, that is what we're about and that is what we want to make sure continues to happen."
Laurel Historical Society member Karen Lubieniecki, of Old Town, said the stop is not only about convenience but also economics, supporting local businesses and the revitalization of Main Street.
"The train station has been like an economic engine for the town from the beginning because it was where the raw goods came in and finished goods came out," Lubieniecki said. "Why would you do anything that would take this away from a community that is a walk-able community?"
Old Town Laurel resident and mother of four Candace Pollock said her family moved to the area 10 years ago, enjoying and appreciating the improvements implemented on Main Street. But, she said, "moving the station would nix a lot of that.
"For 10 years, my husband has been walking from our home in Old Town Laurel to the train station every day," Pollock said. "Rain or shine, cold or hot, he walks here. We don't have a second car and if it gets moved down the way, we'll have to buy a second car."
Pollock's daughter, Grace, 11, said she and her siblings have always found the train to be a fun part of the city.
"I think the train station is really cool," she said.
Peñya-Melnyk also addressed the crowd, expressing the necessity of community action.
"Everything we're doing makes sense," Peña-Melnyk said. "We have a vision and this is a very important stop for that vision. It is not right to take away from this community to give to another that is just starting. We're here and we were here first. That ought to count for something."
Peña-Melnyk also urged residents to write letters to Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn and Deputy Secretary Dennis Schrader, requesting the train station stay put for commuters traveling to Baltimore and Washington, D.C., on a daily basis.
Ricks said negotiating with the state DOT on the train stop's location is not out of the question.
"We would be foolish to not have room for compromise," Ricks said. "But, what we want them to do is call us to the table and share with us the information. We have not had that information. We've had one meeting on June 1 with the deputy secretary and it was at the meeting that we were told that they were leaning toward moving the stop away from here."
Either way, Ricks said, he is working with both state and local officials to keep the Laurel train station in use.
"We're willing to work with them, but the train station is staying there," Ricks said. "I'm going to fight and make sure that things happen."
After the press conference, city officials canvassed the parking lot and placed post-paid postcards addressed to Rahn and Schrader at DOT on car windshields. The cards had a pre-printed message stating opposition to moving the stop to Howard County.
Rosapepe's office said community members can voice their opposition to the plan at SaveOurStop.com.