Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Train Saved, W.Va. Passengers Pay the Freight

West Virginia patrons on MARC's Brunswick Line received good news before Christmas when the rail agency canceled plans to annul the last train of the day to Martinsburg. Now they are getting the bad news.

The Martinsburg Journal reports that as of February 1 fares will rise by $2 for a one-way trip to Washington and by $80 for a monthly pass. The Maryland Transit Authority, which operates the MARC service, says it loses approximately $350,000 a year on its three trains to West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle. It receives no financial aid from the Mountaineer State.

This is not surprising given that the Eastern Panhandle is a small part of a state whose capital is over 300 miles away and whose political orientation has tacked right while much of the rest of the country has moved left. The Eastern Panhandle has become part of the Washington metropolis. Its population is growing because workers from the nation's capital are buying homes there and commuting by train and other modes.

Even though the train has been spared for now, I don't expect legislators in Charleston, the state capital, to come to the rescue of train riders in a part of the state that is increasingly suburban rather than rural in character. Even with the Eastern Panhandle's population gains ridership is low west of Brunswick.

Hence, I believe the three trains to Martinsburg have been given a reprieve for now and could wind up on the chopping block in the future. If that happens, hopefully MARC will create a few extra parking spots at its Brunswick, MD, station.

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