MARC is off to the races Jan. 31

January 18, 1994|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Staff Writer

Maryland's commuter train system is getting a major revamping with a timetable that adds midday and rush hour service, a new stop at Laurel Race Course and a cafe-parlor car that will offer food, drinks and first-class seats.

The revised schedule unveiled yesterday by Mass Transit Administration goes into effect Jan. 31. State officials said the changes should make train service more convenient and reliable than in the past.

"What we're trying to do is enhance our service and create a more flexible schedule," said Maryland Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer. "I think people are going to respond positively. There's no question that it will attract more riders."

Attracting riders has not been a problem for the Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) system, but keeping them happy has been.

MARC handled an average 18,500 passengers per day last year, and has been the MTA's fastest growing transit system.

But MARC probably lost some riders when the MTA imposed a 19 percent fare increase in October. And trains met their timetables 92 percent of the time in 1993, 3 percentage points below MARC's 95 percent goal.

Besides on-time performance, one of the most frequently heard complaints from MARC commuters has been a lack of midday service on the Camden and Brunswick lines and overcrowding during rush hours. Both those issues have been addressed in the new schedule, said David V. Nogar, MARC's director.

The Penn Line, which runs from Perryville to Baltimore's Pennsylvania Station to Washington's Union Station, will have an additional train running during afternoon rush hour. To protect the timetable, a back-up crew is to be positioned at Union Station at peak periods.

MARC will cut service on the line from 42 to 39 trains per day, and will run a few trains from Washington only as far as Odenton.

On the Camden Line, the little-used Berwyn Station will be closed.

"With every schedule change, you have winners and losers," said Mark Wolkow, an Abingdon resident and rail commuter who chairs MARC's citizens advisory committee. "But I think more people will be happy than sad."

Midday service on the Camden Line, which runs from Camden Station to Washington, and on the Brunswick Line, which runs from Washington west to West Virginia, is needed so that commuters won't be left stranded when family emergencies or other needs arise, Mr. Nogar said. Beginning March 1, the MTA also plans to offer a midday shuttle bus to ferry customers between the Penn Line stops north of Baltimore and the MARC station at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where they can connect with Penn Line trains.

State officials said the new stop at Laurel Race Course is necessary because of chronic overcrowding at the 295-space parking lot of the existing Laurel station at Main Street and Lafayette Avenue.

The new station will have 250 parking spaces. Plans for it have been in the works for several years and have no relationship to the football stadium proposed by Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, said MTA Administrator John A. Agro Jr. The station will be too small and will lack the extra track and facilities needed to serve a stadium, he said.

The new cafe-parlor car will offer food and beverages, as well as 18 first-class seats featuring swivel chairs and fold-down desktops. The seats must be reserved in advance, and would cost a Brunswick Line commuter paying $150 for a monthly pass another $105 to book a seat round-trip.

MARC is putting only one such car into service -- during rush hours on the Brunswick Line and during midday on the Penn Line. It will be available on a trial basis beginning in February.

In another first, Spanish lessons will be offered on some trains. A Washington-based language school is offering them at $2 per lesson on a trial basis on the Penn and Brunswick lines.

Mr. Nogar said the schedule will likely be augmented as MARC acquires more equipment. The state is expected to take delivery of 19 rebuilt locomotives between March and December, replacing 13 currently in service.

MARC is also completing plans for double-decker coaches. A contract for 40 such vehicles is expected to be bid in the spring for delivery in two years at an estimated cost of $80 million.

New rail schedule

Beginning today, new timetables will be available at all Maryland Rail Commuter stations.

To obtain a MARC timetable in the mail, call (800) 325-RAIL or (410) 539-5000. Or send your address to MARC Customer Services, 300 W. Lexington St., Baltimore 21201.

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