Photo by jpmueller99 on Flickr.

MARC proposed a disastrous schedule for its Brunswick Line in December. Fortunately, they’ve created a new schedule proposal that is a huge improvement over the first one. It adds service to Montgomery County stations, which now account for half of all Brunswick Line riders.

Still, the proposal will not make everybody happy. People who now take the westbound super-express would have longer trips. Many riders would have longer gaps between evening rush-hour trains, due to earlier start and end times for westbound West Virginia service. And late riders from West Virginia would have to transfer to a bus to get home.

Nonetheless, MARC and MTA deserve real praise for their willingness to listen to riders and elected representatives, and to use this information to revise their approach.

Service improvements in the proposal

MARC’s proposal increases service to Montgomery County, which not only contributes an increasing share of current riders but will account for still more in the future through transit-oriented developments around MARC stations.

At least one more train would stop at each of the county’s stations except Silver Spring and Rockville, where all trains already stop, and Metropolitan Grove. The additional service would also benefit riders who work in Germantown, Gaithersburg, and Kensington. This is a good and needed change, and MARC should make sure it stays in the final schedule.

Also, the proposal adds a PanTran bus connection to West Virginia for the first daily westbound train. This would increase flexibility for riders from West Virginia stations who might need to go home early.

Finally, the proposal adds a third morning train from West Virginia. The train would leave Martinsburg at 6:00 am, between the two current departures.

West Virginia westbound service changes

In this schedule proposal, westbound train service to West Virginia would begin and end earlier. Instead of the 3 West Virginia-bound trains that currently leave Union Station at 4:55 pm, 5:40 pm, and 7:15 pm, there would be 3 trains leaving at 4:15 pm, 5:15 pm, and 6:15 pm. The last westbound Brunswick Line train (the current 7:15 pm departure) would end in Brunswick instead of Martinsburg, and West Virginia riders would transfer to a PanTran bus.

MARC says that West Virginia riders have asked for an earlier departure, so the proposed 4:15 pm train might be an improvement. However, a bus transfer would not be a welcome change for riders who now take the last train.

In addition, riders who are not from West Virginia would have longer gaps between evening rush-hour trains because of the shift to earlier West Virginia service. This is because the 4:55 pm West Virginia train would become a 4:45 pm Brunswick train; the 5:15 pm departure would go to West Virginia instead of Frederick; the 5:40 pm departure for Brunswick would become a 5:35 pm departure for Frederick; and the 6:00 pm Brunswick-bound train would become the last West Virginia train, leaving at 6:15 pm.

For Frederick branch riders, the 85-minute gap between the trains leaving Union Station at 3:50 pm and 5:15 pm would increase to a 110-minute gap between trains leaving at 3:45 pm and 5:35 pm.

For Brunswick and Point of Rocks riders, there would be 2 evening rush trains (leaving at 5:15 pm and 6:15 pm) instead of 3 (leaving at 4:55 pm, 5:40 pm, and 6:00 pm).

And for Montgomery County riders, the 20-minute gap between trains leaving at 5:40 pm and 6:00 pm trains would increase to a 40-minute gap between trains leaving at 5:35 pm and 6:15 pm.

The magnitude of these confusing changes, the extra effort of arranging interstate connecting-bus service to the West Virginia stations, and the fact that the previous schedule proposal also had the last westbound train ending in Brunswick, all combine to suggest that ending the last train in Brunswick instead of Martinsburg is very important to MARC. Why?

Does MARC want to reduce service to the West Virginia stations because West Virginia does not contribute to MARC funding? If so, why do both proposed schedules add a third eastbound train from West Virginia?

Or does CSX want MARC trains off their tracks earlier? The last train now deadheads back to Brunswick after its 9:14 pm stop in Martinsburg. Storing the train in Martinsburg would get it off earlier. But ending the train in Brunswick at 8:58 pm, as MARC now proposes, would get it off earlier still.

Other issues

There are 3 other big issues: the end of the super-express, the absence of new trains, and the non-restoral of daily service for the first westbound train.

First, the proposed schedule would end westbound-service on the historic

super-express, which now leaves Union Station at 4:55 pm and stops only in Silver Spring, Rockville, Point of Rocks, Brunswick, and the 3 West Virginia stations. MARC explains that “with growing ridership in Montgomery County, we can no longer skip these stops when the demand exists.”

Second, the proposed schedule does not add to the Brunswick Line’s current 18 daily trains. MARC explains that CSX will not allow MARC to add trains until the State of Maryland builds a third track. However, MARC has nonetheless asked CSX for permission to add 1 morning and 1 evening train. CSX might even agree, given federal and state funding of CSX’s National Gateway Project.

Third, the proposed schedule does not restore daily service for the first westbound train. This Brunswick-bound train currently leaves Union Station at 1:45 pm on Fridays only. Daily service ended in 2009 when the Maryland Transit Administration cut service due to budget shortfalls.

What now?

MARC has stated that “[t]here is no target date for implementation — we want to first gather further feedback from our customers.”

As they did the last time, MARC has set up an on-line survey for people to comment on the proposal.

MARC will also hold “town hall” meetings in Charles Town on Saturday, May 19; Rockville on Tuesday, May 22; and Frederick on Wednesday, May 23.

In addition, MARC staff will be at Brunswick Line stations to gather feedback in the afternoons/evenings between May 1 and May 17. MTA will send out e-mail alerts with specific stations, dates, and times.