Photo by Mark Fisher on Flickr.

MARC is proposing changes to the schedule on its Brunswick Line which significantly improves service to Montgomery County stations. The changes reflect new, recently-released boarding statistics for the line’s 19 stations, statistics which can help them better serve commuters.

The data show, among other things, that Mont­gom­ery County stations account for roughly half of the line’s eastbound riders; Germantown is one of MARC’s big stations; riders go to destinations other than Rockville, Silver Spring, and Union Station; and Frederick branch ridership is not meeting proj­ec­tions, probably due to its infrequent service.

In addition, the Brunswick Line is a significant part of MARC’s service; Brunswick and Point of Rocks ridership is big but smaller than Montgomery County’s; and West Virginia has hundreds of people who ride the train despite infrequent service, long travel times, and ticket surcharges due to lack of state funding.

The Brunswick Line is arguably the most complicated of MARC’s 3 lines. It’s certainly the longest, running for 73 miles northwest through Montgomery and Frederick Counties and on to Martinsburg, West Virginia, with a 13.5-mile branch line to Frederick.

In addition, like MARC’s Camden Line, it runs on tracks owned and controlled by freight carrier CSX. And it is constrained, despite growing ridership, because CSX refuses to allow MARC to add trains until the State of Maryland funds and builds a third track.

On weekday mornings, Brunswick Line trains bring people from Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia to jobs in Montgomery County, the District, and Alexandria and Arlington. On weekday afternoons and evenings, Brunswick Line trains take them home.

Meanwhile, there are big plans for the future along the line. Montgomery County is encouraging transit-oriented development on its part of the Brunswick Line. Frederick County is doing the same in and near Frederick. Even West Virginia is getting in on the act.

But good policy requires good data. So, where do the ridership data come from, and what do they show?

MARC’s counting method

The data come from counts conducted on Wednesday, February 8, and Wednesday, March 14. MTA passed out the data at the monthly MARC Riders Advisory Council meeting on April 19.

On count days, conductors are supposed to count everybody who gets on and off their train at each station. The total number of people getting on and off each train is supposed to be equal.

The boarding numbers are misleadingly precise. That is, a count of 123 eastbound boardings on Frederick on March 14 does not mean that exactly 123 people got on. However, the numbers are still useful, as they are probably generally accurate, and anyway, they are the only numbers available.

The Brunswick Line overall

The Brunswick Line accounted for roughly 1/5 of total MARC boardings, while the Penn Line accounted for roughly 2/3, and the Camden Line accounted for the rest. Here is a comparison of Brunswick Line boardings to MARC’s other two lines:

MARC Line Direction/Total February 8 March 14
Brunswick Line Eastbound (am) 3,898 4,102
Brunswick Line Westbound (pm) 3,562 3,844
Brunswick Line Total 7,460 7,946
Camden Line Total 4,965 4,711
Penn Line Total 22,911 26,218

On both days, there were more eastbound than westbound boardings on the Brunswick Line. This may be a precision error, or there may actually have been 300-some people each day who went to work on MARC and home a different way.

Montgomery County

Montgomery County has 11 stations: Silver Spring, Kensington, Garrett Park, Rockville, Washington Grove, Gaithersburg, Metropolitan Grove, Germantown, Boyds, Barnesville, and Dickerson. Rockville and Silver Spring are major destination stations as well as origin stations.

9 daily trains in each direction currently make stops in Montgomery County. 2 eastbound and 4 westbound daily trains currently stop at all of the county stations.

Here are the boardings for Montgomery County:

Direction/Total Station/Total February 8 March 14
Eastbound Total 1,844 2,082
Germantown 780 837
Westbound Total 1,170 1,071
Silver Spring 605 654
Rockville 419 312
Other* 146 105
Total 3,014 3,153
*Kensington, Garrett Park, Gaithersburg, Metropolitan Grove, Germantown

The data show three notable facts:

  1. Germantown is a big station, by MARC standards. It’s the biggest station in Montgomery County and on the Brunswick Line overall, and it’s bigger, in terms of one-way boardings, than all Camden Line stations and all but 4 Penn Line stations (Odenton, Halethorpe, BWI, and Penn Station). (This comparison excludes Union Station.)
  2. Rockville and Silver Spring are not the only destination stations in the county. People also ride MARC to jobs in Germantown, Metropolitan Grove, Gaithersburg, Garrett Park, and Kensington.
  3. On the March 14 count day, there were more eastbound boardings at Montgomery County stations than at all other stations on the Brunswick Line combined.

The Frederick branch

The Frederick branch has 2 stations: Monocacy and Frederick. The trains run on a 13.5-mile line that branches off just east of (and not connecting to) the Point of Rocks station. The State of Maryland built and owns most of the track. Currently, 3 eastbound trains leave from Frederick between 5:12 and 7:10 am, and 3 trains bound west for Frederick leave Union Station between 3:50 and 6:30 pm.

Here are the boarding numbers (all eastbound) on the Frederick Line:

Station February 8 March 14
Total 442 408
Frederick 150 123
Monocacy 292 285

The Frederick branch opened in 2001 with 3 eastbound and 3 westbound trains. Projected ridership was 1,600 by 2005, with double the number of trains. Obviously, Frederick ridership is still much less; on the other hand, the number of trains is still the same as in 2001. That more frequent trains would increase ridership is a reasonable assumption.

Brunswick and Point of Rocks

There are also 2 stations in Frederick County that are not on the Frederick branch: Point of Rocks and Brunswick. Currently, 6 eastbound trains leave Brunswick between 5:00 and 7:40 am, and 6 daily westbound trains stopping at Brunswick and Point of Rocks leave Union Station between 3:35 and 7:15 pm.

Here are the boarding numbers at Point of Rocks and Brunswick:

Direction/Total Station/Total February 8 March 14
Eastbound Total 1,135 1,162
Brunswick 687 677
Point of Rocks 448 485
Westbound Total 29 17
Brunswick 28 15
Point of Rocks 1 2
Total 1,164 1,179

Brunswick is the second-biggest origin station on the Brunswick Line, and Point of Rocks is roughly tied for third with Gaithersburg.

The eastbound boarders include residents of Virginia and West Virginia as well as Maryland. However, there do not seem to be any data on how many.

Some of the westbound boardings may represent West Virginia residents who work in Kensington, Gaithersburg, Metropolitan Grove, or Germantown, and transfer from a Brunswick-bound train to the West Virginia super-express that leaves Union Station at 4:55 pm. In Montgomery County, the super-express stops only in Silver Spring and Rockville.

West Virginia

West Virginia has 3 stations: Harpers Ferry, Duffields, and Martinsburg. Currently, 2 eastbound trains leave Martinsburg at 5:25 and 6:30 am, and 3 trains bound west for Martinsburg leave Union Station between 4:55 and 7:15 pm.

Here are the boarding numbers (all eastbound) at the West Virginia stations:

Station February 8 March 14
Total 477 450
Martinsburg 199 183
Duffields 173 175
Harpers Ferry 105 92

West Virginia no longer contributes to MARC funding. Eastern Panhandle legislators are trying to do something about this. Meanwhile, since 2009, West Virginia riders have paid a surcharge of $2 per one-way ticket, $20 per weekly ticket, and $80 per monthly ticket.