The Maryland Rail Corporation (MARC) has informed the West Virginia Department of Transportation (WVDOT) that passenger service from West Virginia will be cut from three trains each way to one in October. This would be a disaster for Jefferson and Berkeley Counties.
I’ve had several conversations with West Virginia Transportation Secretary Byrd White and Brian Abraham, Chief Counsel to Governor Jim Justice, urging them to do what they can to persuade MARC to continue the service as it exists now. I’ve also talked with fellow legislators, as well as Chuck Reicks, of the National Rail Passengers Association. I’ll talk with anyone who’ll talk with me.
Some of our local state legislators (not all), and some local government officials (again, not all) haven’t been helpful.
For the first time in West Virginia’s 156-year history, the chairs of both finance committees are from our area. Craig Blair chairs the Senate Finance Committee and Eric Householder chairs the House Finance Committee. Both live in Berkeley County.
Householder has supported funding the MARC service, but Blair has opposed it. The Legislature has refused to come up with enough money to satisfy MARC’s request for just over $3 million per year from West Virginia.
Among Jefferson County delegates, Sammi Brown and I have argued strongly for enough money from West Virginia to keep all the trains running. By contrast, Delegate Paul Espinosa has indicated that the $1.1 million West Virginia appropriated this year was enough, calling MARC service an “amenity.”
MARC is not an “amenity,” it’s critically needed infrastructure. West Virginia needs to come up with something well above $1.1 million, and Delegate Espinosa’s help would be welcome.
WVDOT thinks ridership is only 200. Many observers think it’s 500. Lots of West Virginia riders board at Brunswick, and I don’t think they’re counted properly.
Maryland was required to give West Virginia a 60-day notice, and is required to hold a public hearing before any change in MARC service can be made. The memorandum of understanding between the two states ran out June 30.
I’ve been criticized by some for not being more vocal about this question. That’s absurd. Many of the discussions I’ve had about MARC have been of necessity confidential.
When I was first elected to the Legislature in 1982, I began trying to get a West Virginia state subsidy for the commuter train. Then-Delegate (later Judge) Tom Steptoe, then-Delegate (now Berkeley County School Board Member) Pat Murphy, then-State Senator Sondra Lucht, and I challenged the legislative leadership of our own party and obtained $200,000 for what was then a ridership of about 200 (on two trains per day). To do that we also had to contend with the opposition of many local county and municipal officials.
Subsequently, I used much of my allotted “earmark” money (called the “budget digest”) to pave and expand the parking lot, and build the sheltered platform, at Duffields. Earmarks were eliminated when the legislative leadership became Republican.
That $200,000 would be about $800,000 today. The 500 riders we have today would mean $2 million ($4,000 per rider). The governor and the transportation secretary have the flexibility to come up with more money. Were they to add $900,000 to West Virginia’s contribution (for a total of $2 million), one would think MARC would be willing to keep at least two trains per day to and from Martinsburg.
I remain committed to MARC, and I’ll keep working to keep all three trains.
— Save the Date: There will be a “town hall” meeting on Friday, July 12, at 6pm, at The Barn of Harpers Ferry (1062 W. Washington St.) to discuss this, and other, issues.
— Mr. Doyle represents Jefferson County in the WV House of Delegates—District 67.