Plan for expanded MARC urged

The Baltimore Sun

Top elected leaders from the Baltimore region have called on Gov. Martin O'Malley to begin developing a strategic plan for the expansion of MARC train service to prepare for growth expected from military base realignment.

The Baltimore Metropolitan Council - made up of Mayor Sheila Dixon and leaders from Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties - wrote the governor asking him to work with them to increase service on the commuter rail system. Among other things, they suggested that Maryland look into the possibility of laying additional track to expand the Maryland Rail Commuter system.

While MARC ridership has been growing steadily over the past decade, its capacity has been limited by its reliance on Amtrak and CSX Corp. for the use of those railroads' tracks.

Amtrak owns the Penn Line between Perryville and Washington, while CSX controls the Baltimore-Washington Camden Line and the Brunswick Line connecting Washington with Western Maryland and West Virginia.

Maryland stands to benefit from the federal base realignment and closure process, known as BRAC, which will bring an influx of jobs to military facilities in the state - notably Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County and Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County. But base realignment could also put new pressure on MARC, which is already dealing with overcrowding and frequent equipment problems.

Harford County Executive David R. Craig, the metropolitan council's chairman, noted that MARC is the only mass transit facility that serves both the proving ground and the Army post.

"BRAC will contribute to the general growth projected to occur over the next 30 years, as the Baltimore region becomes more connected with both the Washington region and regions to the north," Craig said in a statement released yesterday. "We need a frank assessment of where we stand today and where we need to be in the future with regional commuter rail."

The metropolitan council urged the administration to "immediately" launch a comprehensive study - modeled on the 2004 plan drawn up for the Virginia Railway Express in suburban Washington - of ways to improve train service in the corridor.

The council urged the administration to study the opening of a new MARC station in East Baltimore and the relocation and improvements at the Middle River and Aberdeen stations. The officials also want to study the feasibility of adding more parking at Odenton, the station closest to Fort Meade.

Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari, responding on behalf of O'Malley, said such a MARC study is "already in motion" at the direction of O'Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who is chairing a subcabinet on BRAC.

"We are not quite ready to unveil it at this point," said Porcari.

He said the study is being conducted within the department, but that it will be expanded to include local governments, Amtrak, CSX and other stakeholders.

Porcari said some of the council's suggestions, especially the construction of new track, would not be easy because of a scarcity of available rights of way. Any solution, he said, would require the cooperation of Amtrak and CSX.

But Porcari said he was ruling nothing out.

"We're not starting out by limiting ourselves and saying we can't do that," he said.

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