Western Maryland Commuters

May 10, 1991

The joys of living in scenic Western Maryland already have proved alluring to thousands of long-distance commuters who make their way to work in Washington or Baltimore on a daily basis. But now there is a chance to take these commuters off the clogged interstates and put them on comfortable and relaxing rail trains instead.

A state study shows large potential ridership for commuter-rail lines running from Frederick, Hagerstown and Cumberland to Washington, D.C. Simply starting a Frederick-to-Point of Rocks line would generate 2,300 riders a day, say transportation officials.

The idea would be to tie these three Maryland cities into the Maryland Rail Commuter service, which runs seven morning and seven evening trains between the Harpers Ferry-Brunswick area and Union Station in downtown Washington, with stops in major Montgomery County residential and employment centers such as Germantown, Gaithersburg, Rockville and Silver Spring.

At a March summit just outside Cumberland, the governors of Maryland and West Virginia agreed to work together to extend Maryland's commuter train service to Harpers Ferry in order to improve ridership on the Washington route and foster tourism for the Appalachian region. But money for such an undertaking is lacking at this stage. Passenger demand, though, is certainly there. Ridership on MARC's Brunswick line has jumped 58 percent in three years, carrying 1.2 million commuters a year.

A sensible and cost-effective commuter-rail network in Western Maryland offers numerous benefits. It could spur commercial, residential and industrial development in this depressed region. It would encourage more people to locate in the scenic hills and valleys of the area, knowing they are an easy train commute away from metropolitan job and cultural centers. And it would tempt thousands more drivers to keep their cars in the garage and take the train to work.

State transportation officials should finalize proposals to make these commuter-rail plans more concrete. That could be pivotal to obtaining legislative approval and the extra revenue (probably from a higher tax on gasoline) that would be required. Ending Western Maryland's isolation is key to solving its chronic economic problems. Getting more cars off the road -- thus reducing air pollution and Maryland's highway costs -- would also benefit the entire state.

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