The Maryland Department of Transportation announced Thursday that the Laurel MARC train stops will not be eliminated while scheduling adjustments are made to a planned Laurel Park station in Howard County.
MDOT spokeswoman Erin Henson said MDOT, Maryland Transit Administration and CSX Transportation officials signed a memorandum of understanding in late February.
As stated in the agreement, the Laurel Park MARC station will have limited service, with three morning stops on southbound trains to Union Station and three evening stops on northbound trains to Baltimore. The 5:11 a.m. flag stop at the St. Denis station and two flag stops at the Jessup MARC station – 6:53 a.m. and 6:01 p.m. – will be eliminated.
The MARC train transports passengers between Baltimore and Washington on weekdays. While freight transportation company CSX owns the tracks, the MARC train is operated by the Maryland Transit Administration.
"This solution is a perfect example of what we can accomplish working together," transportation secretary Pete Rahn said in a press release provided by MDOT. "CSX remained committed to finding a way to deliver for Marylanders while Howard County continues to work closely with the state and the private sector to spur regional economic development."
The announcement comes nearly two years after Laurel City Councilman Edward Ricks and residents began a grassroots effort, "Save Our Stop," in June 2015, when state transportation officials said they planned to move Laurel's commuter stop 2,500 feet north into Howard County and adjacent to Laurel Park racetrack, where a mixed-used development is planned. The racetrack stop has a platform, but is listed as a flag stop on the MARC Camden line schedule.
Stronach Group, owners of Laurel Park, have submitted plans for a development next to the existing Laurel Park flag stop platform in Howard County.
Henson said commuters affected by the eliminated stops at St. Denis and Jessup can board the train at the Dorsey station and Annapolis Junction, where parking is available.
Ricks said he and Councilwoman Donna Crary, who helped lead the "Save Our Stop" effort, were both elated about the decision. Keeping the Laurel stop open was a demonstration of the residents' resilience and a supportive state and county, he said.
The effort garnered the attention and support of state and county elected officials, including District 21 Sen. Jim Rosapepe and Dels. Barbara Frush and Joseline Peña-Melnyk; and Prince George's County Councilwoman Mary Lehman.
"It has been a long road," Ricks said. "We feel very relieved. We have both worked very diligently on this project and we were in it to win it."
Crary said the solution couldn't have been reached without the city's ongoing collaborative efforts with state transportation departments.
"I'm very happy and we're glad it's in writing now and signed by all the parties," Crary said.
On Friday, Peña-Melnyk said she was "extremely pleased" the stop will stay open.
"I think it's wonderful. ... It's a really historic stop and an integral part of the Laurel community," Peña-Melnyk said. "When you look at the development in the area, everything has been done with the Laurel stop being part of that master plan."
Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman said the resolution was "a very positive step."
"We've been working toward this for a long time," Kittleman said.
Laurel Historical Society member Karen Lubieniecki, of Old Town, said the community played a pivotal role in saving the Laurel stop. Residents wrote letters to Rahn and Deputy Secretary Dennis Schrader at MDOT, she said, opposing the stop's closure and placed postage-paid postcards on windshields of cars parked at the commuter station for others to send.
"Save Our Stop" yard signs were also made and placed throughout Old Town.
"The community was very involved ... to show that there was public support for this effort," Lubieniecki said. "I think it's really good news for Laurel."
Officials from Howard, Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties; the city of Laurel; and the Laurel Park development team were involved in the decision on the MARC stops, Henson said, and will move forward to implement plans for the Laurel Park station.
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"I thought this was a creative solution to the problem and was a win-win for everybody," Lubieniecki said. "I give Ed Ricks, Donna Crary and the other officials involved a lot of credit in coming up with a solution on how to deal with two stops."