The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


MARC backs away from all-day service on Brunswick Line

In 2007, the Maryland Transit Administration proposed adding a third track to the MARC Brunswick Line, which could make it possible to have all-day, two-way service. With a recent plan update proposing less third track, it's unlikely that this will ever happen.

MARC's Brunswick Line in Dickerson. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

The 2007 MARC Growth and Investment Plan proposed a third track from Georgetown Junction in Silver Spring, to Point of Rocks in Frederick County. It would have been built in three stages between now and 2035. In contrast, the 2013 draft update proposes one small portion of third track in Montgomery County and at unspecified locations elsewhere.

This reduces the chance that there will ever be all-day, two-way service. CSX owns the tracks that MARC trains use, and the agency will not allow MARC to run more service if there isn't a third track. If MARC doesn't say where they plan to put a third track, Montgomery County can't reserve the right-of-way for it, making it harder to build the third track later.

Current service on the Brunswick Line consists of 18 daily trains, peak-service headways of 40-75 minutes, one off-peak train on Fridays only, no reverse-peak service, and no weekend service. The Maryland Transit Administration's original plan for MARC called for bringing all-day, two-way service to the Brunswick Line in three stages.

In 2015, there were to be at least 6 additional peak-service trains, or 3 round trips. By 2020, there were to be shorter peak-service headways, plus some reverse-peak and off-peak service. And in 2035, there were to be reverse-commute and weekend service, as well as service to L'Enfant Plaza and Northern Virginia.

As for the third track, first, MTA would build near Rockville and along the Frederick branch of the Old Main Line. In 2020, there would be a third track on Barnesville Hill, roughly between the Monocacy River, west of Dickerson, and the Bucklodge interlocking, west of Boyds. In the long term, MTA would build the remaining sections of track between Georgetown Junction and Point of Rocks.

In comparison, the 3-stage expansion in the 2013 draft update builds up to only marginally more service. There would be no additional trains in the short term. During the 2020s, MARC would add 3 additional trains, including one reverse-peak train.

Between 2030 and 2050, there would be 6 additional peak-service trains (3 round trips), plus some off-peak service and some more reverse-peak service. The draft update only proposes building a short section of third track on Barnesville Hill in the 2020s, with "additional triple tracking" at unspecified locations in the long term.

Why is MTA's 2013 draft update so much less ambitious than its 2007 plan? Perhaps MTA is trying to hold down the costs of the plan. But unlike the 2007 plan, the 2013 draft update does not provide cost estimates for the long-term plans. So reducing the scope of the long-term plans does not affect the total cost in the 2013 draft update.

Or maybe MTA now believes that there will be insufficient demand for all-day, two-way service and weekend service on the Brunswick Line in the future. But this seems inconsistent with MTA's explicit recognition of transit-oriented development (TOD) in the 2013 draft update, including the creation of high-density, mixed-use TOD on existing surface parking lots within walking distance of MARC stations.

In Montgomery County, there are plans for MARC-related TOD at Kensington and White Flint, and construction is already underway at Gaithersburg, Germantown, and Metropolitan Grove. But will there be enough transit to support TOD at these stations, if even MARC's own Growth and Expansion Plan does not call for eventual all-day, two-way service?

And will these plans leave room for an eventual third track, if MARC's Growth and Expansion Plan does not call for one? Montgomery County's draft Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan, which proposes a countywide Bus Rapid Transit network, also covers right-of-way for MARC. But it only includes a third track northwest of Metropolitan Grove.

All of these projects should maintain a reserved right-of-way for the third track that will make it easier to provide all-day, two-way service on the Brunswick Line. And for this to happen, MTA's final update of the Growth and Investment Plan must restore both all-day, two-way service and a third track between Georgetown Junction and Point of Rocks as long-term plans.

If you support all-day, two-way service on the Brunswick Line, please e-mail MTA at MTA will accept public comments on the draft update through mid-November.

Miriam Schoenbaum lives in upcounty Montgomery County. She is a member of the Boyds Civic Association, the Boyds Historical Society, and the Action Committee for Transit


Add a comment »

Just build the third track between silver spring and Germantown

by jcp on Oct 28, 2013 12:06 pm • linkreport

Not only is this a necessary transportation service (reverse peak trains), it is also a critical economic development for Maryland and West Virginia. If the plan is to forever be bedroom communities for DC and Silver Spring, by all means, keep the current service unchanged. If the communities northwest of Silver Spring ever want to become robust employment centers, they will need better transit links to the core jurisdictions, and MARC service in the reverse direction is key to all those locations beyond Shady Grove.

Not that MARC would care, but there is significant tourism demand to travel to Harper's Ferry on weekdays and weekends. If the service was available, even one or two trains per day, they would be extremely popular with tourists (local and others).

by Will on Oct 28, 2013 12:25 pm • linkreport

I think improved Frederick service could also be a missed opportunity. While downtown Frederick is definitely much smaller than it's triangle cousins of Baltimore and DC, I would think there are growth opportunities in increased density in downtown Fredrick. Unfortunately the Frederick spur is a fairly slow one if I recall. Frederick seems to be working to revitalize their downtown with the canal and other improvements. Does anyone think improved growth / service to Frederick would play out in the long term or is service to WV / Harpers Ferry a larger growth for WV commuters / tourists to Harper's Ferry?

by GP Steve on Oct 28, 2013 12:42 pm • linkreport

@Will. Right on. I'd love to take trips out to Frederick or Harpers Ferry by train, but peak-direction, weekday-only MARC service makes that impossible. In NYC, the commuter trains are great ways to reverse commute and simply get out of the city. They are frequently quite packed. It was really disappointing to move here and find that the commuter train service was so paltry.

by TransitSnob on Oct 28, 2013 12:57 pm • linkreport

My gut says that the walkable parts of Frederick that would benefit from increased MARC service is an area that's about as big as Old Town Alexandria. There is ton of potential in having more frequent service between Frederick and DC. The TOD is already there. Take advantage of it.

by drumz on Oct 28, 2013 1:00 pm • linkreport

This local would be *thrilled* to take the train to Harpers Ferry on weekends. I agree that improved Frederick service could also be an opportunity for increased business and tourism growth.

by Ronit Dancis on Oct 28, 2013 1:01 pm • linkreport

Is the updated plan simply trying to focus ridership growth on the Penn, and possibly the Camden, lines? These two lines connect two major urban areas and the ridership growth potential and TOD potential seems to be significantly higher.

Limited transportation $$ - even with the new transportation bill - needs to be prioritized to get the most bang for the buck. Thoughts?

by VA22314 on Oct 28, 2013 1:14 pm • linkreport

As someone who is currently in possession of a Gaithersburg-Silver Spring monthly, and who uses said monthly more often on Ride-On buses thanks to MARC's rush hour only focus, I am begging for all day bidirectional service. Frederick makes a solid anchor, and there are plenty of high-value destinations at Rockville, Gaithersburg, Metro Grove, and Germantown that would be served well by bidirectional service. If it's a matter of cost, I'd be willing to bet that riders would be willing to take a fare hike in order to get this superior service. I know I certainly would...

@VA22314: If I remember correctly, current Penn ridership is more than Camden and Brunswick combined, but current Brunswick ridership is almost double the Camden ridership. Plus, I remember reading somewhere that (excluding Union Station, of course) more people board at Germantown on a daily basis than any stop not named Penn Station or BWI, including those Penn Line stops that currently have all day, bidirectional service! Sure, there may be more potential growth on the Penn Line, especially thanks to Fort Meade and BWI, which is why it makes sense that the Penn Line gets weekend service first (that, and Amtrak's cooperative policies). But to me, it makes more sense to spend money improving service where ridership already is than to spend money improving service where ridership might be.

by Justin..... on Oct 28, 2013 1:33 pm • linkreport

A third main track is probably going to become necessary just to maintain the existing service levels, let alone increases. CSX is trying to push for more of their intermodal trains to use the Metropolitan Subdivision (the tracks that the Brunswick Line uses) as part of their National Gateway program. More freight trains (granted, the intermodal trains can run at 50 and sometimes 60 MPH) could really limit things for MARC.

Ironically, the best solution in terms of MARC operations might be double-tracking between Point of Rocks and Frederick and on the Old Main Line (Frederick-St. Denis). A lot of the CSX trains that slow things down are heading up to Baltimore, but the problem is that the Old Main Line doesn't have the capacity, so a lot of the traffic goes down to DC, then runs up either via the NEC Line (basically for traffic heading straight up to New York or Philadelphia) or on the Landover Subdivision (more frequent, and a limit on Camden Line operations).

by Aaron Z. on Oct 28, 2013 1:39 pm • linkreport

The state has already set aside $100 million for the Corridor Cities Transitway. Shouldn't all-day service on the Brunswick Line be a higher priority?

by Ben Ross on Oct 28, 2013 1:42 pm • linkreport

While I too would prefer bidirectional service perhaps as Ben says you could leverage the transitway and existing metrorail to provide a parallel level of service. Hopefully in the long run you can justify frequent limited service between Frederick and Shady Grove that could provide an off peak replacement for MARC.

by BTA on Oct 28, 2013 1:58 pm • linkreport

BTA - No, the Corridor Cities Transitway is a feeder service, essentially a shuttle bus connecting new developments to rail stations. Until Metropolitan Grove has all-day MARC service, or the Red Line is extended to Germantown, the CCT will have little value for anyone living farther out than Kentlands.

That's why the MARC third track should precede the CCT.

by Ben Ross on Oct 28, 2013 2:23 pm • linkreport

When the Virginia Assn. of Railway Patrons hosts a display at public events (we plan to be at Ashland, Va., Train Day on Nov. 2), we often get asked about taking the train to Harper's Ferry. Here in Virginia there seem to be a lot of people interested in using the service if it were available for same-day round trips out of Washington.

by Steve Dunham on Oct 28, 2013 2:28 pm • linkreport

This plan sounds short-sighted and ill-advised. More frequent service on the MARC Brunswick Line is a no-brainer (TOD, economic development and just better access overall).

Sounds like someone in Maryland is really dropping the ball here. Nice work Miriam. GGW, please stay on top of this one.

by nativedc on Oct 28, 2013 2:38 pm • linkreport

At their 10/14/13 worksession on the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan, the Montgomery County Council's T&E Committee voted to recommend adding 25' of right-of-way along the CSX tracks from Metropolitan Grove to the Frederick County Line to support the addition of a third track. MTA staff was in attendance and said that the third track would provide additional flexibility in scheduling freight trains and need not be where the highest transit ridership on the line is (east of Metropolitan Grove). The full Council is anticipated to take action on the plan in November or early December.

by Larry Cole on Oct 28, 2013 3:47 pm • linkreport

need 1 reverse commute to fredneck and 1 to harpers ferry on weekdays. That is 4 reverse trips per day. 4 additional peak direction trips could be added without adding too much crowding at Union station(currently a big MARC problem)

Midday service would be good to gradually phase in as well.

Weekend service would be nice, but it would also be nice on the Camden line and just became available on Penn so perhaps this could wait till later.

by Richard on Oct 28, 2013 5:40 pm • linkreport

Insanity to only run trains in peak direction. I'd never even heard of such a thing til I moved here. The lack of mobility is CRIPPLING to the long-term prospects of the region, and the fact that we can't even talk about things on a 20-year timeframe is indicative of the complacency and lack of vision that plague the whole area.

by MetroDerp on Oct 28, 2013 7:56 pm • linkreport

What MetroDerp said.

How much freight traffic is there currently on the line, anyway?

by Alon Levy on Oct 28, 2013 9:11 pm • linkreport

If we had any doubts, Larry Cole's comments suggest that MoCo continues to take measured steps toward expanding MARC capacity on the Brunswick Line. I wonder whether MoCo can plan for widening east of Met Grove to prevent inconsistent development so that obtaining right of way does not become less feasible elsewhere.

But what about Frederick County?

by JimT on Oct 29, 2013 7:56 am • linkreport

I think I was in high school in Frederick when the Frederick extension was opened, and thus didn't know anything or care about any of these issues so I don't remember how it all played out, but I kind of think the alignment of the Frederick extension was a mistake.

After I started becoming interested in transit and development type things, I would hassle my dad about why he didn't take the train. He claimed that taking the Brunswick line to Rockville and transferring to the Red Line to finish his trip to the NIH would take even longer than sitting in I-270 traffic. I've never tried to independently verify this, but it seems plausible, since the current alignment is so indirect.

Obviously the costs of acquiring rights of way and laying new track would have been huge, but a more direct route that more or less paralleled I-270 and met the main Brunswick line around Germantown seems like it would have been so obviously a better solution. The trip between Frederick and the employment centers of MoCo and DC would have been more direct and quicker, there are no stops at all between Monocacy and Point of Rocks that would have gone unserved, and stops could have been built that might have dramatically changed how Urbana and Clarksburg developed.

This is all just my fairly uninformed opinion. Would such an alignment have even been possible? Was it, in fact, explored in depth as an option at the time and ultimately rejected due to cost or some other reason?

by burgersub on Oct 29, 2013 9:10 am • linkreport

How much freight traffic is there currently on the line, anyway?

This is old data from 2002, but then there were about 22 total passenger trains a day (Amtrak and MARC) and 15 or so freight trains:

by Alex B. on Oct 29, 2013 9:19 am • linkreport


Germantown is the biggest station on the diesel lines, but in addition to Penn and BWI, Odenton and Halethorpe are bigger:

by Ryan on Oct 29, 2013 3:40 pm • linkreport

Brunswick ridership to and from Martinsburg and/or Harpers Ferry indicate at least provision for third rail right of way now. As a relatively frequent tourist to and from WV, my observations are that supporting riders exist if and when Brunswick is extended to reverse commute and weekend service.

by Dr Andre Palades on Oct 29, 2013 10:42 pm • linkreport

I know many of my friends who cannot take MARC because the last AM train leaves much earlier than the time they drop off their kids at school. Even if it is not a all-day service, I would hope they at least consider a few additional services say maybe until 9.30 am.

MARC/MTA should also consider adding more parking at stations such as Germantown, Rockville and Gaithersburg. With more parking, many more commuters will switch from Metro/Car to MARC.

by raj on Nov 11, 2013 5:32 pm • linkreport

Sorry, I'm probably late on this, because I've just noticed this, but I would love to see all day MARC train service on the Brunswick line, so my daughter and I could take a day trip to Harpers Ferry , and visit friends near there too.

by Douglas R Hott Jr on Jan 8, 2014 8:55 am • linkreport

I would like to see a two way service up to at least Harpers Ferry at the weekends, look how a success it has been on the Penn Line.

by Peter wilkinson on Apr 21, 2014 8:28 am • linkreport

I lived in NJ most of my life and moved to Maryland about 10 years ago. In comparison, NJ's transit system is light years ahead of Maryland's.

The population is much more dense in NJ yet the traffic flows much faster and the trains runs much faster and better. You can travel in both directions to and from NY to many areas in NJ including the shore even on weekends. If that was not enough there are buses too.

I find Maryland to be so primitive sometimes I wonder if I will see wild animals on my trip to Frederick.

by Steven Chang on Jun 8, 2016 1:24 pm • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

You can use some HTML, like <blockquote>quoting another comment</blockquote>, <i>italics</i>, and <a href="http://url_here">hyperlinks</a>. More here.

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.


Support Us