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MARC listens, improves draft Brunswick Line schedule

MARC proposed a disastrous schedule for its Brunswick Line in December. Fortunately, they've created a new schedule proposal that is a huge improvement over the first one. It adds service to Montgomery County stations, which now account for half of all Brunswick Line riders.


Photo by jpmueller99 on Flickr.

Still, the proposal will not make everybody happy. People who now take the westbound super-express would have longer trips. Many riders would have longer gaps between evening rush-hour trains, due to earlier start and end times for westbound West Virginia service. And late riders from West Virginia would have to transfer to a bus to get home.

Nonetheless, MARC and MTA deserve real praise for their willingness to listen to riders and elected representatives, and to use this information to revise their approach.

Service improvements in the proposal

MARC's proposal increases service to Montgomery County, which not only contributes an increasing share of current riders but will account for still more in the future through transit-oriented developments around MARC stations.

At least one more train would stop at each of the county's stations except Silver Spring and Rockville, where all trains already stop, and Metropolitan Grove. The additional service would also benefit riders who work in Germantown, Gaithersburg, and Kensington. This is a good and needed change, and MARC should make sure it stays in the final schedule.

Also, the proposal adds a PanTran bus connection to West Virginia for the first daily westbound train. This would increase flexibility for riders from West Virginia stations who might need to go home early.

Finally, the proposal adds a third morning train from West Virginia. The train would leave Martinsburg at 6:00 am, between the two current departures.

West Virginia westbound service changes

In this schedule proposal, westbound train service to West Virginia would begin and end earlier. Instead of the 3 West Virginia-bound trains that currently leave Union Station at 4:55 pm, 5:40 pm, and 7:15 pm, there would be 3 trains leaving at 4:15 pm, 5:15 pm, and 6:15 pm. The last westbound Brunswick Line train (the current 7:15 pm departure) would end in Brunswick instead of Martinsburg, and West Virginia riders would transfer to a PanTran bus.

MARC says that West Virginia riders have asked for an earlier departure, so the proposed 4:15 pm train might be an improvement. However, a bus transfer would not be a welcome change for riders who now take the last train.

In addition, riders who are not from West Virginia would have longer gaps between evening rush-hour trains because of the shift to earlier West Virginia service. This is because the 4:55 pm West Virginia train would become a 4:45 pm Brunswick train; the 5:15 pm departure would go to West Virginia instead of Frederick; the 5:40 pm departure for Brunswick would become a 5:35 pm departure for Frederick; and the 6:00 pm Brunswick-bound train would become the last West Virginia train, leaving at 6:15 pm.

For Frederick branch riders, the 85-minute gap between the trains leaving Union Station at 3:50 pm and 5:15 pm would increase to a 110-minute gap between trains leaving at 3:45 pm and 5:35 pm.

For Brunswick and Point of Rocks riders, there would be 2 evening rush trains (leaving at 5:15 pm and 6:15 pm) instead of 3 (leaving at 4:55 pm, 5:40 pm, and 6:00 pm).

And for Montgomery County riders, the 20-minute gap between trains leaving at 5:40 pm and 6:00 pm trains would increase to a 40-minute gap between trains leaving at 5:35 pm and 6:15 pm.

The magnitude of these confusing changes, the extra effort of arranging interstate connecting-bus service to the West Virginia stations, and the fact that the previous schedule proposal also had the last westbound train ending in Brunswick, all combine to suggest that ending the last train in Brunswick instead of Martinsburg is very important to MARC. Why?

Does MARC want to reduce service to the West Virginia stations because West Virginia does not contribute to MARC funding? If so, why do both proposed schedules add a third eastbound train from West Virginia?

Or does CSX want MARC trains off their tracks earlier? The last train now deadheads back to Brunswick after its 9:14 pm stop in Martinsburg. Storing the train in Martinsburg would get it off earlier. But ending the train in Brunswick at 8:58 pm, as MARC now proposes, would get it off earlier still.

Other issues

There are 3 other big issues: the end of the super-express, the absence of new trains, and the non-restoral of daily service for the first westbound train.

First, the proposed schedule would end westbound-service on the historic
super-express, which now leaves Union Station at 4:55 pm and stops only in Silver Spring, Rockville, Point of Rocks, Brunswick, and the 3 West Virginia stations. MARC explains that "with growing ridership in Montgomery County, we can no longer skip these stops when the demand exists."

Second, the proposed schedule does not add to the Brunswick Line's current 18 daily trains. MARC explains that CSX will not allow MARC to add trains until the State of Maryland builds a third track. However, MARC has nonetheless asked CSX for permission to add 1 morning and 1 evening train. CSX might even agree, given federal and state funding of CSX's National Gateway Project.

Third, the proposed schedule does not restore daily service for the first westbound train. This Brunswick-bound train currently leaves Union Station at 1:45 pm on Fridays only. Daily service ended in 2009 when the Maryland Transit Administration cut service due to budget shortfalls.

What now?

MARC has stated that "[t]here is no target date for implementationwe want to first gather further feedback from our customers."

As they did the last time, MARC has set up an on-line survey for people to comment on the proposal.

MARC will also hold "town hall" meetings in Charles Town on Saturday, May 19; Rockville on Tuesday, May 22; and Frederick on Wednesday, May 23.

In addition, MARC staff will be at Brunswick Line stations to gather feedback in the afternoons/evenings between May 1 and May 17. MTA will send out e-mail alerts with specific stations, dates, and times.

Miriam Schoenbaum lives in Montgomery County's Agricultural Reserve. She serves on the MARC Riders' Advisory Council and is a member of the Action Committee for Transit

Comments

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Two issues: one, MARC is part of MTA. It's not a seperate entity.

Two, Amtrak uses that line too. That complicates things.

Now, if MD, WV, and PA would fund the third track to Pittsburgh, maybe more service along the line would be possible? Both for MARC but also Amtrak.

by Drake Perth on May 1, 2012 1:50 pm • linkreport

Agreed. Something should be done about improving the Pittsburgh service speed. The Capitol Limited takes almost 8 hours to get to Pittsburgh. While I've done it and it's a beautiful trip, it's almost double the time it takes to drive that same route.

by Former Pitt Student on May 1, 2012 2:22 pm • linkreport

There's no way anyone (MTA, PA, WV, CSX, Amtrak) is going to fund a 3rd track to Pitt. For one, even without the huge backlog of far more important transportation projects and limited funds, it's hardly practical to fund a third track for a money-losing long distance train with only a single daily frequency (each way).

As for newly proposed schedule, I agree that it's a huuuuge improvement over the one released in Dec, and also better than the current one. I don't think that the loss of the super-express--the long running "Blue Ridge Express"--is that big of a deal, especially since there's now 5 options to get to WV in the evening.

I 101% agree with the lack of the daily 871 and any new service, although I am definitely pleased that the MTA at least asked CSX for a new round-trip frequency. It would be nice to see the Brunswick Line get some new trains like the Penn Line did a while ago (although Amtrak still needs to let them run trains on the weekend).

by King Terrapin on May 1, 2012 4:47 pm • linkreport

First, I love that the last train would leave Union Station at 7:25 instead of 7:15. That ten minutes may not seem like a lot, but that ten minutes allows for an infinitely more reliable connection to BOTH the Camden and Penn Line trains that leave Baltimore at 6:10 and 6:25, respectively. That connection now is very hit-or-miss (mostly miss).

I'd be willing to bet money that there will remain a super-express. The time may change, as may the train number, but I think some train will still be a super-express when this is all said and done. I think this proposal, while superior to the last one in every way, is very anti-West Virginia. Whether or not this has to do with their lack of contributions (which, if I remember correctly, WV is currently attempting to address), WV gets hosed here. I think the retention of the super-express will be the tool the MTA uses to placate them, especially if the last Martinsburg train leaves an hour earlier than it does now (yes, there will be buses, but bus transfers at Brunswick are obviously inferior to trains directly to Martinsburg).

I do not understand why Train 871 is still a Friday-only train. If it really is about cost, then raise the fares. Fares have been the same since '03. A fare increase of a couple dollars is not that much, and if that's what it takes to get additional service, then I'm sure most riders won't mind.

Speaking of additional service, I like that the MTA has asked CSX for an additional round trip. If this is given, I think that 1) this trip needs to be to/from Frederick, and 2) this trip needs to operate AFTER the current last trips in the morning and evening. Frederick is underserved as of now (again, shuttles from Point of Rocks are inferior to trains directly to Frederick), and an additional round trip would help grow ridership there. Making the additional round trip come after the current last trips gives riders additional service.

As for the schedule itself, how hard is it to have the schedule use headways that make sense? The morning headways are basically okay, but the afternoon ones are pretty bad. Why is there only a 15 minute headway between the first two trains (before the evening rush), but 30 minutes or more during the height of rush hour? With the 9 trains currently (and factoring in the Capitol Limited at 4:05, which really should accept weekly/monthly passes, like certain Northeast Regionals do for the Penn Line), I would space them something like so:
3:40 (Brunswick)
4:10 (Frederick)
4:35 (Martinsburg)
5:00 (Brunswick)
5:20 (Martinsburg)
5:40 (Frederick)
6:05 (Martinsburg)
6:35 (Frederick)
7:25 (Brunswick)
with the 5:20/5:40 AND 6:05/7:25 destinations swapped if the MTA/CSX aren't as adamant about the last train not going to Martinsburg as they seem. The only problem with this would be the first Frederick train leaving 20 minutes later than it does now, but for the sake of spacing, I'd make it as such.

by Justin..... on May 1, 2012 9:11 pm • linkreport

@Justin

Your post mirrors my thoughts exactly. I actually didn't even notice the 883's change to 7:25pm, which is definitely an improvement since I've been wanting them to change it to 7:30pm for a while.

871 is definitely my biggest pet peeve. There's no reason that train should be Friday only. I used to ride that train a few years ago, and yes while it was "full" on Fridays it definitely had more than enough riders during the week to make it reasonable.

I also strongly agree with raising fares. It's ridiculous that Metro is far more expensive than MARC for the same distance. The state is really struggling to fund its promising transportation initiatives and the solution is to raise fares and the gas tax.

ditto for new frequency going to Frederick

ditto for the afternoon headways. As you mention the 15min dep difference between 873 (3:30) and 891 (3:45) makes very little sense this early in the rush since it's still 30min until the next train, 875 @ 4:15 (which is an improvement over the previous time of 4:25).

It actually never used to be this way since a few years ago the 891 used to depart at 4:05 (with a decent 30min headway prior and 20min headway after). However, Amtrak's Cap. Ltd. to Chicago which was scheduled to leave at 3:50pm often left late (not unusual for Amtrak's long distance trains), delaying 891. So MARC and Amtrak swapped departure times which creates an aggravating situation since the Amtrak train needs wide headways before and after departure or it will delay or be delayed by MARC trains.

I don't think they'll restore the super-express though, at least not in its previous form, because it'll take away some of the proposed increase in service for the MoCo stations. There's also no way they're keeping 883 as a Martinsburg train since that's one change the MTA has definitely been adamant about, even from the original service cuts implemented 3 years ago (the WV fare hike saved it that time).

by King Terrapin on May 1, 2012 10:20 pm • linkreport

I find it simply amazing that you can catch a MARC train from DC to West Virginia, but there is no transportation to Southern Maryland, and none planned. Have any of you ever tried to drive MD5 between Andrews AFB (Where it mysteriously drops to two lanes) and Waldorf? Where PG and Charles counties thought it would be a good idea to plop development on both sides, and adding oh, about 20 traffic lights--- Even Rt 4/PA Ave is two lanes down to Calvert. Seriously. Southern MD needs transportation before the transportation bloated northern counties do.

by NoTrain on May 2, 2012 12:02 pm • linkreport

@NoTrain

Actually, Southern MD has the largest number of MTA Commuter Bus routes (which complements/substitutes for MARC service) of any region in MD. California, La Plata and Waldorf, Prince Frederick, and North Beach all get Commuter Bus service, but of course MARC service would be nice too.

There's also a proposed light rail line from Branch Ave to Waldorf, but with three other transit lines in the works across Maryland (Purple Line, Red Line, CCT) its been pushed to the backburner.

See:
MTA Final Report Southern MD Light Rail

by King Terrapin on May 2, 2012 1:20 pm • linkreport

@ King Terrapin

How does a light rail to Branch Ave help someone going to DC or somewhere ? All the lightrail will do is cause WMATA do get rid of any Metrobus that travels south of Andrews AFB.

Commuter Bus in no way compares to Commuter Rail

by kk on May 3, 2012 8:51 pm • linkreport

@kk

You take the light rail to the Green Line and continue on the Green Line to DC.

Besides the prohibitively expensive cost of building a brand new commuter rail line, it doesn't really make much sense in Southern MD since the suburbs don't really go that deep. Light Rail makes far more sense since it will serve more people with its greater stop frequency and is cheaper.

Yeah, commuter rail is clearly superior to commuter bus, but the latter is a good substitute where ridership numbers won't support the former or there are no existing rail lines. This is how the MTA selects Commuter Bus routes which serve places like Southern MD, Hagerstown, the Eastern Shore, Annapolis, Howard County, etc.

by King Terrapin on May 3, 2012 10:15 pm • linkreport

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