Among the ties that bind the Baltimore and Washington areas, the heavily subsidized MARC commuter train service is one of the most important. On an average weekday, 9,500 Marylanders use its Pennsylvania line, 4,000 take the Camden line and 5,000 patronize the Brunswick Line from Western Maryland.
The destination of 95 percent of the riders is Washington's Union Station. For $131 a month, a Baltimore resident can take an unlimited number of rides to the nation's capital 36 rail miles away. The monthly MARC pass must rank among the great bargains of our time.
MARC has now announced a thorough reworking of its passenger schedule. Midday and rush hour service has been added. There is a new stop at Laurel Race Course and a cafe-parlor car that will offer food, drinks and first-class seats.
Interestingly, in an effort to provide better on-time service, MARC has actually decreased the number of trains going to Washington. Another new wrinkle is that some trains no longer run to Baltimore but are turned around in Odenton, a heavily used Anne Arundel stop near Fort Meade.
This redeployment of MARC's resources comes at a time when the state-run commuter system is on the threshold of a major expansion. It is about to bid an $80 million contract for 40 double-decker coaches that ought to be in service in two years.
Meanwhile, parking at several MARC stations will be improved. The biggest construction project is a 1,100-space garage at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport station.
A major effect of the reworked MARC schedule is to strengthen the Camden line, which runs from a station next to Oriole Park through Elkridge, Laurel and Greenbelt to Union Station. Up to this point, that line has operated a relatively sparse schedule. Two new runs have now been added, enabling commuters to connect with the two downtowns in the middle of the day and well after the end of a normal office work day.
Much of the future growth in ridership is likely to occur on that line, which connects with the Washington Metro in Greenbelt. Bids for a big, new station at Dorsey Road, in Anne Arundel County, will be advertised later this year.
MARC has become increasingly successful in attracting commuters. Its service, though poor at times, has mostly been reliable. If this new schedule does not improve the performance, officials should not hesitate to make further changes.