Posts about MARC
Union Station's concourse, which serves Amtrak, MARC, and VRE passengers, can get very crowded. Plans to renovate the concourse aim to use the space more efficiently, providing larger waiting areas and giving riders much more room to move around.
Union Station's concourse could look like this. All photos by the author, all renderings by KGP design studio/Grimshaw unless otherwise noted.
Union Station will soon begin construction on the "Passenger Concourse Modernization Project," an effort to relieve crowding and give customers a better experience in Claytor Concourse (the concourse's official name). The renovations are part of the station's larger 2nd Century Plan which aims to double train and passenger capacities over the next twenty years.
As it exists now, the concourse is a crowded space with waiting areas inadequately sized for the explosive growth that intercity and commuter rail ridership has seen in the last few years, reflecting the fact that the terminal is operating far beyond it's capacity and outgrowing the major renovations that were completed in 1988.
The Concourse Modernization Project will make way for expanded passenger waiting areas by eliminating many structures that currently stand between the station concourse and the tracks, such as the Amtrak information desk and the Starlight Room (the MARC waiting room that encompasses Gates B, C, and D).
The Amtrak desk invites people to stand in line in the same place where others need to walk through the concourse.
Club Acela, a waiting room for Amtrak's first class passengers and premium rewards club members, will be relocated to a new, glass-enclosed second-floor location above the new waiting areas, and the women's bathroom at Gate G will be moved to the east end of the concourse. The men's bathroom and the retail space currently occupied by Sbarro and McDonalds will remain, according to a proposed concourse floor plan.
These changes will expand the floor space of the concourse by 20,000 square feet, ensuring that passengers waiting to board their trains will no longer come into conflict with foot traffic moving through the station or frequenting the numerous shops located between the trains and the main hall. The new arrangement will eliminate the fences that currently corral passengers into waiting areas in front of each gate.
These separated waiting areas fill up quickly once a train departure gate is announced, and boarding lines often spill over into the constrained walkway in front of the concourse shops. Of course, this problem may still persist if, after the renovations are complete, Amtrak retains its current inefficient boarding procedures— Amtrak has emphasized Union Station's status as a major multimodal hub when discussing the planned renovations. The adjacent Metro station serves over 30,000 passengers a day, making it WMATA's busiest station. Long-term WMATA plans include relocating the station's First Street NE entrance and adding extra escalators and elevators to the passenger concourse. Union Station also ranks highly in intercity and commuter rail passenger numbers: the station annually serves 1 million VRE customers (the third-busiest in that system), 5 million Amtrak passengers (second in the nation), and 8.5 million MARC customers (the busiest in that system). Amtrak claims that 75% of Capitol Hill employees pass through the station each day. A renovation of Claytor Concourse will be enormously beneficial to the tens of thousands of passengers who pass through the station daily. Preliminary construction and relocation work for the project is expected to start before the end of this year, while full construction will begin in Winter 2017/2018. Amtrak expects the work to be completed in 2020. What do you think of the Passenger Concourse Modernization Project? Do you think it improve your experience using Amtrak, MARC, and VRE?
Amtrak has emphasized Union Station's status as a major multimodal hub when discussing the planned renovations. The adjacent Metro station serves over 30,000 passengers a day, making it WMATA's busiest station. Long-term WMATA plans include relocating the station's First Street NE entrance and adding extra escalators and elevators to the passenger concourse.
Union Station also ranks highly in intercity and commuter rail passenger numbers: the station annually serves 1 million VRE customers (the third-busiest in that system), 5 million Amtrak passengers (second in the nation), and 8.5 million MARC customers (the busiest in that system). Amtrak claims that 75% of Capitol Hill employees pass through the station each day. A renovation of Claytor Concourse will be enormously beneficial to the tens of thousands of passengers who pass through the station daily.
Preliminary construction and relocation work for the project is expected to start before the end of this year, while full construction will begin in Winter 2017/2018. Amtrak expects the work to be completed in 2020.
What do you think of the Passenger Concourse Modernization Project? Do you think it improve your experience using Amtrak, MARC, and VRE?
Friday is the DC region's 16th annual Bike to Work Day. It's a great opportunity to build a few extra minutes into your commute to stop at one of over 80 commuting "pit stops" on your way to (or from) work.
An interactive map of the Bike to Work Day 2016 pit stops.
The pit stops offer refreshments, raffles, and free t-shirts to those who register. Each pit stop has something a little different: elected officials and entertainment will be at some, and some will be open in the afternoon for your commute home.
Last year's Bike to Work Day in our region attracted over 17,000 participants. With Metro's SafeTrack starting soon, bicycling will be an important commuting alternative for some people. If you'll be impacted by SafeTrack and are considering bicycling as an alternative, Friday is a great day to get out there and test your route!
Plans for renovating and rebuilding parts of Union Station are well underway, the aim being to better connect train, bus, pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle traffic to accommodate a surge in ridership over the next 25 years and beyond. On Wednesday, the public got a closer look at some of the possibilities.
Union Station houses DC's busiest Metro station, is the hub for both of the region's commuter rail systems, MARC and VRE, and is both the second-busiest intercity train station in the country and the second-busiest station in Amtrak's system. In anticipation of rising demand, planning started last year for a $10 billion, four-year expansion project that could triple station capacity.
Several hundred people attended a Wednesday night meeting to hear what the Federal Railroad Administration, which owns Union Station, has in mind for the overhaul. While plans for expanding the area where passengers wait to board trains surfaced Wednesday morning, this meeting was about telling the public about the need for renovating and rebuilding virtually the entire complex, from parking areas, bus terminals, taxi stands, and train platforms to the original station building and the space above the tracks just north of the station.
With Union Station being in its 109th year of service, some of the project's literature refers to the project as the "Second Century Plan."
Here are some of the functional features the project team said it's looking to bring to Union Station:
A more efficient way for taxis and car services (including ridesharing programs) to pick up and drop off passengers. Taxi drivers typically have a 30-45 minute wait in the taxi queue at the station today.
A more bike-friendly environment. There's currently too little capacity for both bicycle parking and bike sharing to meet even current demand.
Wider train platforms, as the ones there now aren't compliant with ADA standards, and also do not meet standards for an emergency evacuation. Widening the platforms will actually mean a decrease in the number of tracks at the station, from 20 to 19. But planners also emphasized that intercity rail capacity will increase because the platforms will be significantly longer-- nearly a quarter mile in some cases.
Larger, more open concourses that can handle the expected tripling of passenger demand by 2040.
A safer bus terminal, where there's less of a chance that people and buses will need to use the same space. Also, a more visually appealing bus terminal.
A complex that meshes well with the H Street Bridge, which will be rebuilt in the next several years.
One thing the FRA is putting significant emphasis on is the aesthetic appeal of the new station. The current building is on both the National and Washington DC Register of Historical Places, and its key features, such as the great hall, will remain unchanged. Presenter Paul Moyer reviewed examples of other stations around the world that are both functional and attractive, to use as an example.
While demand is maxing out for just about every mode of transportation that passes through Union Station, there's one mode where it's not: driving. Usually, only 70-90% of the parking spaces Union Station's garage are full at peak times, and nearly a quarter of those are leased out on a monthly basis, meaning they're likely used by workers in surrounding offices not directly tied to the station.
Rather than increasing the number of parking spaces, the planners are simply looking to make a more visually appealing parking facility. An architecturally renowned garage in Miami was cited as a possible inspiration.
Also, having empty railyard just blocks from the US Capitol is not the most economically stimulating use of space. Therefore, the air rights over the tracks were sold to Akridge, who will develop a project called Burnham Place, a mix of offices, retail, hotel, and residential that will sit above the tracks. Because the air rights begin at the current height of the H Street Bridge, designers will not be limited to a claustrophobic experience like what travelers experience at New York's Penn Station.
As you can see in the graphic above, the Federal Railroad Administration (and the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation), Amtrak, Akridge, DDOT, WMATA, and the National Park Service all own different portions of the affected site, and will need to sign off on the plan, as will various historical review boards and federal interests.
While at least some of what was presented is very likely to happen, nothing is a done deal yet. The official purpose of the meeting was to solicit input from the community before developing formal proposals.
Community members were shown a scale map of the study area (roughly, the current station footprint, including the parking garage, plus the tracks as far north as L Street), and asked to place cardboard templates representing possible concourses, bus terminals, and other features in various places on the map, to gather feedback on possibilities.
The strongest sentiments at both this meeting and the last one, which was in December, were about how the Union Station project will affect surrounding neighborhoods.
The business community is looking for better intermodal connections (between Metro, Amtrak, bus, and streetcar), and local residents is looking for better connections to the neighborhood itself, such as through the long neglected entrance off of H Street, and to have many of the nearby Metrobus routes actually stop at the station, rather than blocks away.
Because the projects are dependent on one another, both local residents and the business community asked that the required environmental reviews for Burnham Place and the rest of Union Station will be done at the same time. This is not guaranteed, because the process for each project is different.
If you would like to view the presentation from the FRA, it is posted here, and comments are still being accepted on the site. The next public meeting, where project alternatives will be presented, is scheduled for this summer. Once the project is approved, construction is expected to last about four years.
Should MARC service run to L'Enfant Plaza? Should resources go toward more weekend commuter rail service? Every state in the US (including DC) has to create a plan for how to use its railways, these are some of the questions the District Department of Transportation is asking as it crafts its plan for passenger, commuter, and freight rail.
In a survey asking residents what its goals for rail should be, DDOT lists a number of possibilities, including:
- MARC service extending to L'Enfant Plaza
- More reverse commuting options
- More weekend commuter rail service
- Commuter rail seeing expanded hours and frequency
More generally, DDOT is deciding where to put its effort when it comes to more general matters, including better connections at stations and faster trip times and on-time service. The survey also asks what people are concerned about when it comes to railroads in DC: Terrorism? The environment? Trains disrupting the neighborhood?
Some plans are already going into place. DDOT is currently looking at options for rehabilitating or rebuilding Long Bridge across the Potomac, and CSX is working on rebuilding the Virginia Avenue Tunnel.
Finally, you can put in your own ideas about what DDOT should be doing when it comes to the district's railroads and supporting infrastructure.
One thing that's important to remember: While there are some choices that could be seen as pitting passenger rail against freight, better rail corridors are typically good for both.
The survey will be open here until March 1st.
In DC, housing is so scarce that prices are skyrocketing, especially for charming, historic row houses. Just up in Baltimore, however, they can't give many dilapidated row houses away, and Larry Hogan recently announced a plan to tear many of them down. Is that a good idea?
In the short run, parks will replace the tear-downs, but Hogan also announced a loan program to encourage developers to build new housing in the same neighborhoods.
What's the point of knocking down housing just to build other housing? Our contributors discussed this issue.
Canaan Merchant articulated the concern:
There is a sense that these neighborhoods will just never recover (at least in our lifetimes) and until then the abandoned houses just make things more dangerous.
But if the "plan" (vague as it is) is to build parks and affordable housing then I have a hard time separating that logic from what we said about so many neighborhoods (like Southwest Waterfront).
Meanwhile, one of Baltimore's best resources are these old row houses and tearing them down is a big opportunity cost that can never be replaced. That's why we have historic districts and why historic districts are valued today.
Payton Chung explained the economics:
There is such a thing as property with a negative value. Think about if a smelly, flea-ridden old couch materialized in your living room—Richard Layman, a historic preservation supporter, posted some thoughts on an email list and gave permission to print them.
you'd pay to get rid of it, right? That's negative value.
Given the high housing prices in DC, we can sometimes forget that the capital cost of rehabilitating (or even maintaining) buildings can be so high that those buildings have negative value. Gut-rehabbing an old rowhouse just to meet code can easily cost over $100,000.
Given that move-in condition rowhouses in West Baltimore can cost $50,000, there's little economic incentive to rehab the houses unless you're comfortable throwing lots of money away. Nor can you just rehab a few of them: vacant properties really drag down the value of entire blocks, and selective demolition isn't an option since rowhouses depend on their neighbors for structural support.
What's more, even good houses at low prices won't be enough to stimulate demand for new housing. It's easy to think "oh, housing prices are cheap, therefore it's a bargain." As new arrivals to Detroit can attest, though, that's not always the case.
Not all rowhouses are created equal. The houses that are being targeted are quite different from DC rowhouses: whereas ours are typically 16-18' wide, Baltimore's rowhouses are just 12-16' wide in most cases. (It's not just a matter of platting—
rowhouses have beams across their entire width, and the price of solid-wood beams doesn't scale linearly.) Those extra few feet make a huge difference in livability, especially in the ability to have hallways next to habitably-sized rooms.
There is a difference in what people can do in weak markets as opposed to strong markets. In a city like DC, there is demand for property, whereas in Baltimore, my sense in talking with planners over the years is that they are beaten down by the sheer volume of the problem, that they have so many vacant properties and lots, that they see demolition as a reasonable step.
The weak market problem there is stoked by too much capacity for development in Howard, Baltimore, Harford, and Anne Arundel Counties. There isn't enough demand for all those places to be successful, and the success of the counties comes at Baltimore City's expense.
But the reality in a place like Baltimore is that a demolished empty building becomes a vacant lot, no easier to revitalize, and merely a different form of blight, an exchange of one blight for another.
Jeff La Noue lives in Baltimore and gave a perspective from up there:
As a Baltimorean, I appreciate our rowhouse architectural character. However, there have been so many public policy decisions, including poor transit as well as the preponderance of crime and poor schools, that make many row house neighborhoods lose their favorability/marketability. As a result, many shells can't be given away and there is no market to spend any money to redevelop.
We all dream of a time when the conditions change for many desolate row house neighborhoods. However, while we wait, the rot continues. In addition, Baltimore remains relatively affordable and we continue to build lots of new housing in the booming southeast part of the city and suburbs. The oldest and least desirable housing then goes vacant as people move up to better housing and "better" neighborhoods whether they be in the city limits or not.
I certainly would love to see a nuanced demolition plan that does not knock down the most charming and viable. However, I think we need to cull of the weakest of the rowhouse herd. It is hard to leave 20 to 30,000 vacant houses just sit for another decade or more. There is not enough demand for traditional row house living right now, especially with poor transit and little neighborhood retail, to make a massive rowhouse renovation plan financially viable anytime soon.
Could Baltimore be DC's next bedroom community?
So, there's negative demand for housing in Baltimore, and overflowing demand in DC. If Baltimore were adjacent to DC, we'd be talking about how it's the next hot area, but it's about 40 miles away. Could faster, better transit whisk Baltimoreans down to jobs in DC?
(Maybe that's what Hogan has in mind with his $10 billion maglev, except he doesn't want to pay for it, it wouldn't go to the distressed neighborhoods, and Hogan just cut a transit line that would have.)
What if Maryland improved MARC speeds and frequencies to make the trains Metro-like. Would Washington-area housing demand flow into Baltimore? Richard Layman doesn't think so.
If it were that simple, it would already have happened. I reverse commuted to Baltimore for a time, and yes, Baltimore markets itself as a cheaper alternative for people working in DC, but it really stinks to spend a couple hours each way each day commuting, especially if one does it by sustainable means (bike/walk/transit).Other contributors said that there might be a few spots where this could work, but they're nowhere near where Baltimore is tearing down blocks. Jeff La Noue:
As I wrote previously, Baltimore is undercut by massive overcapacity of development opportunity in the suburban counties, and great poverty and financial needs within the city, which outstrip its financial capacity. It lacks a transit network which would recenter demand on the center city, for both commercial and residential location.
Plus, while it has cool neighborhoods, the city is large and isn't so walkable between neighborhoods as much as it is within neighborhoods. EYA has a trademark, "Life within walking distance." Baltimore isn't set up that way.
From a Washington perspective, there are tons of super cheap and good looking row houses within walking distance of the West Baltimore MARC Station. That is a place that could seemingly develop market viability, but it needs some initial investment to get it going.
Yes, the property surrounding the West Baltimore MARC station is surprisingly undervalued. However, Sandtown-Winchester won't be improved by transit anytime soon, since it opens a peculiar can of worms: Winchester Street runs atop the Penn Line's B&P tunnel, halfway between Baltimore Penn and West Baltimore, and which is the subject of multibillion-dollar replacement proposals.It seems Baltimore faces such a mountain of problems that these demolitions may be necessary. One can't help wonder if things would have been different if Baltimore had gotten a full subway system like the Metro, which was proposed around the same time.
Commuting from Baltimore to DC would be much easier if the last-mile transit connections were better. The transit connections and densities surrounding Baltimore Penn and Camden stations leave much to be desired, and Washington Union Station isn't convenient to most workplaces in DC.
Through-routing MARC trains down to L'Enfant Plaza and Crystal City would help, as will the streetcar and [potential] future Metro Loop. So will new office developments within walking distance to Union Station, in areas like NoMa and Capitol Crossing.
And while the presence of the federal government kept Washington in better shape than Baltimore during the worst of times, the Metro elevated the value of downtown DC. Had it never been built, perhaps Washington would still be a "donut" of attractive suburbs around a continually decaying core with rising crime and insurmountable vacancy rates.
Our contributors recently got to comparing and contrasting Baltimore's Penn Station with Union Station in DC. Some people say Penn Station is "in the middle of nowhere," but the truth is that it's closer to its respective downtown than Union Station. The difference is that Penn Station has fewer neighborhoods and tourist attractions nearby.
First, some details
Baltimore's Penn Stations serves Amtrak trains on the Northeast Corridor, MARC trains on the Penn Line, and MTA Light Rail. The station station lies in between the neighborhoods of Mount Vernon, south of the station, and Station North, which is designated as Baltimore's Arts and Entertainment District with venues such as The Charles Theatre nearby.
Union Station, Washington DC's rail transportation hub, also serves Amtrak trains as the terminus of the Northeast Corridor, along with serving MARC, VRE, and Metro. It's also a leisure destination with retail functions and eateries.
Is one of these stations "in the middle of nowhere?," In this context, what does "middle of nowhere" even mean?
"Far" is all about perception
Penn Station isn't in the middle of nowhere, says Matt Johnson. "It certainly isn't more in the middle of nowhere than Union Station. I think it's just a perception of how difficult is to get to 'somewhere' from Penn Station as compared to Union Station."
"Baltimore Penn Station is 1.24 miles from Charles Center, the center of downtown Baltimore," Matt adds. "Union Station, on the other hand, is 1.78 miles from Farragut Square, generally considered to be the centroid of downtown DC."
But what people immediately see often shapes what they think. "From my perspective," says Claire Jaffe, Penn Station seems to be in the middle of nowhere because it is almost completely surrounded by large roads and highways and very few buildings. When you come out of the station and do not go directly into a car, it's hard to figure out where to go. Union Station, on the other hand, is much more bustling and is close to not only a tourist destination but lots of jobs."
"Even when Penn Station was also called Union Station, both railroads that used it had more central stations to the south for terminal trains," says David Edmonson. "It's not a new perception. That said, I think the subway messes with the perception of distance. It's a very short ride through dark tunnels to Farragut, but a slow ride through the city to Charles Center. With the cityscape, it just feels longer."
Union Station is more woven in with its surroundings
Canaan Merchant says Union Station feels like it's better-located because "being next to the Capitol and Supreme Court helps. Though I kind of put those institutions and the Mall in general in kind of a separate category from Downtown where most workers are."
"Union Station may be farther from Farragut Square than Penn Station is from Charles Center," says Dan Malouff, "but downtown DC extends east all the way to Union Station. Functionally, Union Station is on the edge of downtown. Penn Station is not on the edge of downtown Baltimore. There is a neighborhood in between. Baltimore's situation is analogous to if Union Station were in Columbia Heights or at RFK. Not 'nowhere,' but definitely not the center of town."
"I think this has a lot to do with Capitol Hill," says Neil Flanagan. "Since the 80s, Union Station been a destination unto itself as a festival marketplace. So, there's a lot to be said about vibrancy creating the sense that one neighborhood is connected to another."
While Union Station is close to many of DC's tourist attractions, Tracey Johnstone notes that Penn Station station is three miles from Camden Yards, the Inner Harbor and Aquarium, and Fells Point, Baltimore's three primary tourist attractions that weekend travelers most often would like to visit:
"Penn Station is not nowhere, but its relatively hard to get downtown from there, or to the action and jobs in south and southeast Baltimore, or to the stadiums," Jeff La Noue says. "The Red Line would have had a speedy connection to all of these from the West Baltimore MARC Station two miles west from Downtown. The West Baltimore MARC is 5-10 minutes shorter time than Penn Station if coming from DC on the MARC. Without the Red Line, the west Baltimore MARC station is very isolated."
Do you have a question? We'll pose it to the Greater Greater Washington contributors and post appropriate parts of the discussion. You can suggest questions by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions about factual topics are most likely to be chosen. Thanks!
On January 1st, trains that carry millions of commuters might stop running. That's because in 2008, Congress set a deadline for trains to have a certain type of safety feature by the end of this year, and a lot of train operators won't be able to meet it.
The law Congress passed requires that any railroad line hosting regular inter-city or commuter rail service, along with freight lines that carry certain types of hazardous materials, be outfitted with "Positive Train Control" (PTC) by December 31, 2015. For much of the nation, that isn't going to happen, and that means those lines will stop operating on January 1st.
Realistically, the only way that freight and passenger service in the United States can avoid being crippled on January 1st is if Congress extends the PTC deadline. If it doesn't, commuters in many cities, including Washington and Baltimore, could see train service disappear.
Here's how PTC works
Positive Train Control is a system of controls built into the track, locomotives, and radio antennas that will stop train crashes in a variety of circumstances. Had PTC been in place at Frankford Junction earlier this year, it would have almost certainly prevented the Amtrak crash in Philadelphia this May.
PTC will automatically stop a train before it runs a red signal, takes a curve too fast, or enters a work zone at an unsafe speed. In order for it to work, the track has to be outfitted with equipment that can tell the train where it is at any given time, radios that will communicate data to the train, and equipment in the cab that interprets those signals and slows or stops the train as necessary.
Congress decided to mandate PTC in the wake of a deadly head-on crash between a Metrolink train and a freight train in Los Angeles. But this was an unfunded mandate. Following it is costing public agencies like MARC and VRE and railroads like CSX and Amtrak billions of dollars.
The fact that the deadline is approaching and PTC is not yet in place across much of the network is not for lack of trying.
Six years may seem like a long time, but to design, install, test, and activate this complex system over thousands of miles of track was and is a herculean task. And it was made more difficult by miscues, especially from the Federal Communications Commission, which dragged its feet allocating the radio frequencies necessary for the system to work.
Some of our region's rail providers will meet the deadline, but others won't
With the deadline to have PTC operational just three months away, railroads are scrambling to figure out what is going to happen. Most of the big freight railroads say they won't meet the deadline. They're all actively working on PTC, but there's just not enough time to complete the work before December 31.
On the other hand, some railroads are ready, or will be. In Los Angeles, Metrolink, the regional commuter rail network, already activated PTC on the tracks it owns, but sections controlled by other railroads remain unfinished. Amtrak says most of its Northeast Corridor will also be ready by December 31. But Amtrak trains on other lines won't be so lucky.
That's because on much of Amtrak's network, the passenger trains run on tracks owned by other railroads, who haven't gotten their equipment in place. Amtrak has been able to get the equipment in place because it owns most of the Northeast Corridor.
Unfortunately, the New York MTA actually owns the corridor between New Rochelle and New Haven, so PTC won't be in place on its section by the end of the year. But between New York and Washington, trains should still be able to operate.
That's some good news. It means that MARC service on the Penn Line shouldn't be disrupted.
On MARC's other lines and on VRE, the story isn't the same. In their cases, CSX and Norfolk Southern don't have their networks ready and won't by the deadline.
Chicago's Metra, one of the largest commuter rail operators in the country, has already begun alerting their riders that unless the deadline is extended, service will stop after December 31.
The shutdown of commuter and inter-city passenger service, along with many freight shipments, could have a huge impact on many regions and the nation as a whole. In the Washington region, thousands of commuters ride in to the city on commuter trains. That number is much higher in other cities.
Without commuter trains, these riders will have little choice but to travel other ways, which will likely increase congestion, pollution, and motor vehicle crashes. And for businesses waiting on shipments stopped because PTC hasn't been turned on, jobs and productivity will be at risk.
At this point, only Congress can keep trains running
Only Congress can fix this. So far, it hasn't shown much inclination to get this (or anything else) done.
House Republicans introduced a bill to extend the deadline three years. However, in the Senate, some Democrats are trying to use it as leverage.
California Senator Barbara Boxer says that unless House Republicans pass a transportation reauthorization, the Senate won't pass the PTC extension bill.
PTC installation won't be complete on most of the tracks that are required to have it by December 31. Without Congressional action, much of the nation's rail network will shut down as 2016 dawns.
That's an unacceptable outcome, but it doesn't mean a polarized and gridlocked Congress will actually manage to stave off the crisis.
Maryland transportation officials have nothing to say about running more MARC trains between Union Station and Frederick County. That's what state legislators and commuters learned at a recent public meeting in Germantown.
Frederick County Delegate Carol Krimm led a group of state legislators in organizing a meeting to hear from the state officials about plans to help residents of northern Montgomery and Frederick Counties travel to jobs located closer to DC.
Delegate Krimm asked the Maryland Department of Transportation to address two topics: Governor Hogan's recently announced plans to spend $100 million on I-270, and potential upgrades to MARC's Brunswick Line, which serves the same corridor.
Greg Slater, chief planner for the State Highway Administration, talked for some time about the Hogan plan for I-270, but he was short on specifics. He said the state will spend $100 million on "innovative traffic congestion relief strategies," but he couldn't say what those will be. SHA plans to issue a Request for Proposals and see what ideas the bidders come up with.
Kevin Quinn of the Maryland Transit Administration followed, speaking at equal length on transit other than MARC. On the Corridor Cities busway and Montgomery County's BRT planning, he simply recapped previous public presentations.
The one transit topic where new information emerged was investigations into running buses on the shoulders of interstates. In many places, Quinn said, SHA had found obstacles like bridge pillars and roadbeds too weak to bear the loads, but it expected to soon locate a stretch of interstate for a trial of the concept.
Finally, MARC's Erich Kolig gave a very short talk focused mostly on new equipment recently purchased by MARC. He said nothing about what the audience had come to hear about: what it would take to expand the Brunswick Line beyond the one-way rush-hour service now provided. Most of the half-dozen legislators and 50-odd members of the public in attendance sported "More & Better MARC" stickers distributed by the Action Committee for Transit, which had leafleted train stations about the meeting.
Legislators and the public peppered the visitors with skeptical questions, complaining of insufficient action on MARC and other fronts. State officials answered inquiries about I-270 and Corridor Cities with detailed information about travel patterns and previously released studies. But they said almost nothing in response to repeated calls for more trains. The most Kolig could offer was that cars with space for bicycles might soon run on the Brunswick Line on Mondays and Fridays.
Another meeting on this topic will take place early next year.
Service on the MARC Brunswick Line only runs one way at a time: toward DC in the morning and away from DC in the afternoon and evening, on weekdays only. Some MARC riders think there is a simple way to make service between DC and Brunswick run both ways in the early and mid-afternoon.
Currently, the Brunswick-bound train that leaves Union Station at 1:30 pm (P871) runs only on Fridays. And when the train returns from Brunswick to Union Station in mid-afternoon (as P884), it does so without picking up passengers. Running P871 every day and having P884 pick up passengers would provide meaningful two-way Brunswick Line service.
CSX constrains MARC's ability to add service
Since 2007, the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) has had the goal of all-day, two-way, and weekend Brunswick Line service. However, CSX, the freight railroad company that owns the tracks the Brunswick Line runs on, has said that MARC may not add trains on the Brunswick Line until Maryland begins to build a third track, which the state has not yet done.
At last week's MARC Riders Advisory Council meeting, riders (disclosure: I was one of them) talked to MTA officials about a way to get two-way service without adding trains to the schedule. The early-afternoon train to Brunswick (P871) and mid-afternoon return train to DC (P884) already exist; they just don't run every day. MARC need only restore daily service to one and passenger service to the other, and voilà: the first step toward full two-way service.
The Friday-only early-afternoon train could run every day
The early-afternoon train (P871) currently leaves Union Station on Fridays at 1:30 pm and arrives in Brunswick by 3:04. Before the MARC service cuts in 2009, this train ran every weekday. If you needed to come home early, that was the train you took. The number of riders on the train each day was low, but the proportion of MARC riders who used the train on occasion was high.
Almost seven years after the service cuts, the early-afternoon train is still running only on Fridays. Riders at the advisory council meeting wanted to know why. MTA has restored other service that was cut in 2009, like service on Columbus Day and Veterans Day. Also, because MTA kept the Friday service, the train already has a train slot, trainset (engine and passenger cars), and crew.
There could be passenger service toward DC in the afternoon
There was also talk at the advisory council meeting of service towards DC in the afternoons. The trainset and crew for the early-afternoon train to Brunswick return to DC as train P884, but P884 doesn't pick up passengers.
In the mid-1990s, there was a mid-afternoon train towards DC that picked up passengers. That train left Brunswick at 4:30 pm, with a scheduled arrival at Union Station at 5:30 pm, and flag stops along the way. Could MTA could restore this service as well?
One potential problem might be a delay in the return to Union Station. MARC uses the same trainset and crew for an evening train to Martinsburg, so a delay in P884's return would lead to a further delay for an outbound train. However, MTA could solve that problem by stopping the train only at Point of Rocks, Germantown, Rockville, and Silver Spring. This would add only a few minutes to the trip.
Discuss the Brunswick Line further at a meeting
There will be a public meeting about MARC Brunswick Line service and other transportation topics in the I-270 corridor, sponsored by state delegates from Montgomery and Frederick Counties, on Wednesday, September 9, at 7 pm, at the Upcounty Regional Services Center in Germantown. People from the Maryland Department of Transportation, including MTA, will be there.
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