The New MARC Plan

Unlike a lot of my colleagues I’m generally in favor of subsidized mass transit. We subsidize highway construction and airline travel so I’m a little underwhelmed by the arguments against mass transit.

I also have a personal stake in this. I’m a MARC commuter veteran spending about 3 hrs each day on a train of some variety. In short, it enables me to comfortably live and work where I choose and being somewhat lazy I like that.

Now comes Maryland Transit Administration with a rather ambitious plan to pump nearly $400 million per year into MARC.

Short assessment: it ain’t going to happen.

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The bottom line is that MARC doesn’t control its own destiny in this matter. Its future is in the hands of CSX, which owns the rail lines, switches, dispatching, and personnel on the Camden and Brunswick lines and ditto for AMTRAK on the Penn line.

On the CSX lines, MARC operates as a rather ugly, redhaired stepchild in relationship to CSX freights. For good reason. The freights are CSX’s line of business and the passenger service simply adds to scheduling difficulties while doing nothing for the bottom line. CSX has no vested interest in upgrading either tracks or switching systems that are perfectly adequate for freight traffic and completely amortized in order to increase MARC’s ontime rate of the comfort of the ride for passengers.

The other determinant is the ability to stage trains out of Washington’s Union Station. This is a major facility for AMTRAK, who owns it, and MARC’s daily schedule can’t be increased without the ability to stage more trains there. There is no room to expand the rail yard. As a MARC bigwig has pointed out, the L’Enfant Plaza Metro is a much better starting point than Union Station, unfortunately the tracks aren’t there.

I really wish MARC well in this endeavor. I’d like more trains. I’d like more timely service. I’d like conductors and ticket agents who don’t look at you like you’re a talking suitcase. Regardless of funding, MARC is is in the same position as Blache DuBois, relying on the kindness of strangers.

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