Eastern Panhandle delegates taking counts, talking with commuters as threat of MARC rail cuts loom

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — You could call it a “boots on the ground” approach to clarifying numbers and listening to the concerns of Eastern Panhandle commuters.

On Thursday’s MetroNews Talkline, Del. Jason Barrett (D-Berkeley, 61) said he is part of a team of delegates waking up early to talk to West Virginians who ride the MARC Brunswick commuter rail line to D.C.

“We’ve done a count each morning of how many folks are riding the train. As of right now, it’s averaging just over 290. I’ve been manning the Martinsburg station, Chairman (Eric) Householder at Duffields, then Delegates (John) Doyle and (Sammi) Brown at the Harpers Ferry station.”

If West Virginia does not pay the State of Maryland the 3.4 million dollars requested, MARC rail service could be cut from six trains daily to two this fall.

Delegate Jason Barrett (D-Berkeley)

Opponents of funding MARC rail say, among other reasons, that it is not cost-effective to fund a transportation service that only a small portion of the state’s population uses. Barrett argues losing MARC would hurt more than just commuters.

“The employees on the MARC train, the conductors and the engineers, you would assume because this is a Maryland train that these folks live in Maryland. Well, that’s not the case. These folks are West Virginia residents. So we’re talking about several jobs as well.”

City of Martinsburg Economic and Community Development Director Shane Farthing previously told The Panhandle News Network that MARC helps his city’s economy.

“You have a connection to jobs, you have a connection to tourists and you have a certain amount of value that comes from being transit adjacent. If you go and you look at the real estate listings, you’ll notice that almost every listing for a house or for a commercial property or a business property includes that proximity to MARC.”

“People are relying on that, not just for the ‘I’m going to go to work, collect my paycheck, get home,’ type of standard commuter things, which is great on its own but we’re trying to build a much more broader economy here,” Farthing said, adding the connection to D.C. that MARC provides is a key component.

Last year, the West Virginia legislature appropriated $1.5 million for MARC service and this regular session appropriated $1.1 million for the 2019-20 budget year.

Delegate Barrett said Thursday that he would like more information from Maryland.

“First I think we need to have some questions answered by Maryland. How much does it actually cost the State of Maryland to operate this train? We’ve essentially received an invoice from them for $3.4 million or they cut the train service, but we’ve never really seen how much it actually costs. So I think we need to ask Maryland to be more transparent.”

“We need to have an interstate compact so that we can guarantee this service for the next ‘x number of years’, Barrett said. “So that we don’t have to come back and fight this battle every year and Maryland doesn’t try to raise the price tag on us.”

If West Virginia does not pay Maryland the requested amount, the proposed cuts to the MARC line in the Eastern Panhandle could happen in November.