MARC Brunswick Line Study – Conversation shifts to tourism, bus service, and opposition to B&O Line

This is a follow-up to our previous coverage of the ongoing story related to the proposed expansion of the MARC commuter rail in Western Maryland, and its opposition and safety concerns.

HAGERSTOWN, MD News (3/10/2023) – The first virtual meeting regarding the MARC Brunswick line study shifted the conversation away from commuting and more towards tourism, with the possibilities of trains travelling on weekends or in reverse of traditional commuting patterns. A strong opposition was also voiced against the B&O rail option, during the meeting and through follow-up emails to elected representatives.

The meeting was attended by several elected officials, including State Senator Paul Corderman, Delegate William Wivell, and Washington County Commissioner Derek Harvey.

Many people expressed concerns regarding lengthy commutes exceeding the projected travel times advertised by MARC, and the B&O rail option for Hagerstown was strongly rejected by many attendees.

MDOT representatives admitted that the B&O rail option was the least feasible, but did seem interested in multiple comments regarding improving bus service within Western Maryland instead of MARC train.

Washington County Commissioner Derek Harvey encouraged MDOT to consider bus service, stating “I hear nothing but complaints about [current MARC commute times], and as an elected official in Washington County, I don’t hear people asking about rail into, you know, the Eastern counties and into DC. What I hear them asking about is, when could we get bus service out here?”

Chris Lombardi, a local resident, stated that “I know for me ridership is always a question, and I I’m a CTO for health care company in Frederick, we have over a 100 employees. We have no plans on returning to the office every one is a remote worker. I don’t see that changing anytime soon. I don’t see 9 to 5 workers really growing.”

City of Brunswick City Administrator, Julie Martorana, added to Chris’ concerns regarding ridership, stating “So the only thing I would like to add is that surely we have seen that same thing Chris was talking about in Brunswick, you know we used to have hordes of people come in community to Park at the MARC station and commute everyday, and that is drastically down. I would say you know less than half, even on a daily basis. But the one thing I do see, like we have really supported this expansion. These expansion ideas for the tourism and for the off hours, not so much for the commuters, and you know I like what was said about the fact that it’s not just about getting to DC. It’s about getting to lots of places in linking those along the way.”

Another local resident, Jonathan Warner, closed out public comments at the end of the meeting stating, “You did your public comment. But you need a hell of a lot more time in the neighborhoods to understand what we’re doing and what we do here in Western Maryland. It’s different. It’s different than Baltimore, and I don’t know where you live, but we need more time than this hour to express all our views and all our opinions.”

Following the meeting, local resident Jerry DeWolf contacted Radio Free Hub City and local elected officials to express his thoughts regarding the meeting. Primarily, DeWolf expressed his opposition to the re-opening of the B&O line, citing the significant impediments of traffic throughout Keedysville, the proximity of the abandoned rail line to local homes, the negative effect on property values in southern Washington County, the extremely high cost of rebuilding the missing sections of track, the potential environmental impact, and the potential for legal battles with residents who have claimed the abandoned railroad property as their own. DeWolf summarized with “Given that this tract was abandoned 4 decades ago and does not exist, and all of the significant challenges listed in your study and above, AND the massively unpopular nature of this B&O line by the residents along the proposed 24+ mile new addition line: PLEASE abandon this option immediately!”

Justin Holder, another local resident, then followed up DeWolf’s email stating that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) may not own the property they think they do. “I had the opportunity last Monday to … review the entire State of Maryland purchase and transaction of the “abandoned railroad from CSX … What I did not locate was any correspondence or attempt in accordance with Federal law to place an ‘interim trail use’, ‘condition of public use’ or ‘rail-bank’ the ‘abandoned’ line.” Holder then continued that “What is apparent is the ‘pay to play scheme’ DNR has been involved in by requesting abutting property owners recognize DNR as owner in exchange for access or utilities is again in my opinion a ‘taking’ and not any form of estoppel or property transfer. More importantly the ‘pay to play scheme’ has managed to preserve the path of the ‘abandoned’ railroad making condemnation proceeding a viable option.”

RFHC followed up with MDOT and requested the current ridership of the 505 bus line from Hagerstown to Shady Grove, as well as projected ridership of any MARC line from Hagerstown to Washington, DC. Unfortunately, MARC never provided the requested information.

While there seemed to be a lot of hesitation regarding MARC expansion for commuter purposes, there did seem to be a great deal of interest from West Virginia residents for usage of MARC for increased tourism to their area. Editor’s Note: This does raise the question, should Maryland taxpayers be subsidizing West Virginia tourism through the MARC line? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Since this was a public meeting, the transcripts of the meeting through Zoom should be publicly available through a MPIA request to MDOT, and all comments during the meeting should be considered a part of the public record.

Radio Free Hub City thanks MDOT for the opportunity for public participation in this process, and looks forward to future opportunities. Information about future public meetings will be made available at the MDOT website.

Story by Ken Buckler, President and Managing Editor.

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