Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Idea of the day: Run the MARC trains on the weekend

September 12, 2011 - 03:36 PM
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Why not seven days a week? (Photo: flickr/John H Gray)

D.C. welcomes its Baltimore commuters Monday through Friday only to dismiss them on the weekend with no service. How might MARC be able to extend service on Saturday and Sunday — is there truly not enough demand to justify it? No, the demand is there. What's lacking is the coordination and will to make it happen.

The 200-mile, decades-old MARC is among the fastest commuter lines in the U.S. and more than capable of providing relatively reliable service to those Baltimoreans who would venture to the District and vice versa. I know multiple riders who enjoy the quick, painless trips back and forth. I've spent a lot of time in Baltimore throughout the past year and whether at Hampden's Rocket to Venus or Brewer's Art, I've begun to get a sense for the MARC from others who ride it. One big complaint dominates the narrative among my Baltimore friends: the lack of weekend service.

Why don't MARC trains run on the weekends?

Ostensibly the MARC runs as a commuter line, so on some level, it makes sense that its trains would only operate during weekdays. But a strong spirit for expanding the service has surfaced in both D.C. and Baltimore, and the option has been on the table, especially regarding the Penn Line. As with so many things, however, the proposals seem to be tangled up in budget and administrative problems.

Why mention this now? Well, it's been, as of last month, more than three years since the talk about the Penn Line weekend service fell apart, along. Three years! In 2007, the Maryland Transit Administration had crafted a 28-year-plan in which they would triple service and feature weekend trips, but that never came to pass despite a consistent desire for it. Consider this Baltimore Sun excerpt from August 11, 2008:

Tracy Connell, a spokeswoman for Amtrak, said there are no fundamental obstacles to weekend MARC service but that details have yet to be worked out.

"We continue to work closely with MARC, and we haven't encountered any major impediments," she said.

Catch and remember those words: "no fundamental obstacles." So why hasn't weekend service happened now three years later? The MARC train should figure out a way to run at least limited weekend service. Doing so would better connect our two neighbor cities as well as provide visitors to D.C. with a convenient way to see Baltimore's neighborhoods without renting a car, which for many in D.C. (those under 25, including its entire transient college population) isn't even possible.

MARC continues to expand, as in the recently announced $4.3 million station in Edgewood that Maryland's Governor Martin O'Malley promoted last week, but the weekend is the one real expansion that MARC should prioritize. The people I've talked to in person have voiced a desire for weekend MARC service, as have various passionate comments I've seen online on blogs and sites like Yelp. People care and want this connection to happen. How long will the region's residents have to wait — another three, six, or 10 years? Longer? Let's hope the MTA finally wakes up and prioritizes weekend service sooner rather than later.

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