Expansion of Maryland's commuter rail system, now stymied by a strapped state transportation fund, may get a $160 million boost from legislation now moving through Congress.
The money is included in a national transportation funding bill approved yesterday by a House committee. If the legislation remains intact as it grinds through Congress and if President Bush signs it, the Maryland portion would provide enough money to purchase new rail cars for the Maryland Rail Commuter service, expand its parking facilities and possibly build a 14-mile spur from Point of Rocks to Frederick, said Representative Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Baltimore, in announcing approval of the bill by the House Public Works Committee.
The bill also could cover improvements including greater accessibility for the disabled at all existing stations, officials said.
Federal transportation officials said earlier this week that they would recommend that Mr. Bush veto the bill because of a disagreement over how such projects should be funded.
But Dawana Merritt, a spokeswoman for Mr. Cardin, expressed confidence that differences between legislators and the administration would be worked out. She said the bill would provide money for Maryland's popular commuter rail system that the state just doesn't have. State transportation officials have been forced to forgo expansion plans for the MARC system because of dwindling transportation revenues.
The state has only enough money to preserve the service it now provides, said Stephen G. Zentz, Maryland's deputy transportation secretary. MARC serves some 17,000 riders daily.
If the state gets the $160 million in the bill, Mr. Zentz said the state would first want to purchase more new rail cars for the MARC fleet and provide additional parking because the present lots are overflowing.
In addition, he said that work could be started on a 14-mile extension between Point of Rocks and Frederick. It would take at least two to three years to complete the spur. The funding also would provide planning money to develop an extension line from Waldorf in Southern Maryland to Union Station in Washington, he said.