In a sign of the merging of the Washington and Baltimore metropolitan areas, state officials approved a plan yesterday to add trains to the rail link between the two cities.
The Board of Public Works voted to add three trips to the MARC Penn Line each weekday evening by mid-February.
Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari, who presented the plan to the board, said the first train will leave Washington's Union Station in the early evening rush hour to help alleviate some of the extreme crowding on the Penn Line. He said the 5:20 p.m. train from Washington, for example, routinely has 300 to 400 passengers standing in the aisles.
Porcari told the board that the Maryland Transit Administration will also add one late-night trip in each direction. The first will leave Baltimore's Penn Station at 10:30 p.m., enabling the MTA to offer train service to Washington for late-arriving passengers at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
The addition of the three trains is the first step in the MTA's long-term plan to triple the capacity of the MARC system by 2035. As part of that plan, the MTA also plans to add limited weekend service on the Penn Line by 2010.
Porcari said the MARC system has a continuing problem with capacity on morning trains. He said the MTA is in talks with Amtrak about possible moves to add more trains in the morning.
"If we could have added another morning train now, we would have," Porcari said. He said that any relief from congestion by adding trains might not be apparent for long, because new capacity is quickly matched by new demand.
Stephen Fuller, an economist at George Mason University, praised the increase in service.
"The Baltimore region has become increasingly attractive to people working in Washington as a place to live because housing is less expensive," Fuller said.
"The city of Baltimore is much cheaper than ... the District of Columbia, and offers many of the same attributes and maybe some that are more attractive," he said.
The jobs that are being created in the Washington-Baltimore area are attracting professionals in their 30s - mostly singles and couples without children - who want a more urban environment with more services and cultural attractions, Fuller said.
Under the plan unanimously endorsed by the Board of Public Works, the MTA will add the new evening express train leaving Washington for Baltimore at 5:14 p.m. It is expected to provide more than 500 additional seats and ease crowding on other trains.
"I have relatives who've stood on that train, so I know it's needed," said state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, who joins the governor and the comptroller on the three-member board.
The final trip will depart Union Station for Baltimore about 11:45 p.m. Porcari said the addition of that train will allow people who work in Washington to stay late at the office or go to restaurants there and still have a train home to Baltimore.
Currently, the last Penn Line trains leave Baltimore at 9:30 p.m. and Washington at 10:45 p.m.
Last evening, the 5:20 train out of Union Station arrived at BWI Rail Station right on time at 5:44 p.m. with every seat taken and passengers standing in every car.
Linda Selby of Linthicum said she was "delighted" to hear about the added train in the early evening. Selby said her train is just as crowded every night as last night.
"Ten minutes before that train goes, every seat's gone," she said. "When you get to Union Station off the Metro, it's like a stampede because people know what it's like."
The additions are the result of an agreement between the MTA and Amtrak that Porcari said was approved two days ago by the railroad's board. Under that plan, Maryland will contribute $5 million toward track improvements on the Penn Line. Porcari said the improvements are expected to enable trains to run at higher speeds and to create more capacity on the heavily used rails.
The start-up and operating costs of the three new trips are estimated at $1 million. According to the state Transportation Department, money for the new service was provided in the revenue package adopted in last month's special session of the General Assembly.
MARC operates two other lines on tracks owned by CSX Transportation - the Camden line between Baltimore and Washington, and the Brunswick Line serving Washington, Frederick and Martinsburg, W.Va.