CSX stops commuter service to park MARC baseball trains have run since 1992

March 28, 1996|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

Orioles fans who live between Baltimore and Washington no longer will be able to ride a special Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) service train to Camden Yards for ballgames.

CSX Transportation Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla., surprised state mass transit officials by telling them it is discontinuing the service, a staple of game days since Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened in 1992.

The first game is Monday. Washington-area fans will be able to reach the ballpark for weekday games on regularly scheduled Camden Line MARC trains. But for their return, fans will have to take Mass Transit Administration buses from Oriole Park to MARC stations in Savage and Greenbelt and Union Station in Washington.

On weekends, MTA will run buses between the ballpark and the Greenbelt station, which is a stop on the Washington Metro.

Some fans who took the train may drive instead, raising fears of increased traffic, noise and parking in the neighborhoods around Camden Yards.

"We anticipate increased parking problems," said Victoria Hopwood-Bruns, president of the Washington Village Improvement Association, whose members have asked the Maryland Stadium Au- thority to pay an "impact fee" to communities near the stadium.

"Even with the MARC trains, it seems that in the last couple of years more and more people were starting to drive," Ms. Hopwood-Bruns said.

Mass Transit Administrator John A. Agro Jr. said yesterday that schedules for the service had been printed when he was informed last week by CSX.

Mr. Agro said that when he asked a CSX vice president if they could discuss the matter further, he was firmly told no

"I am very disappointed," he said. "I am very frustrated."

Kathy Burns, a spokeswoman for CSX, disputed that account yesterday. She said the company informed state officials two weeks ago that service would be discontinued.

CSX is trying to improve the speed and reliability of its freight service, and the nighttime trains returning from the ballpark often slowed down the already slow-moving freight and coal trains the company runs at night, Ms. Burns said.

"In the long term," it may not be possible for freight trains and commuter trains to share rail lines in Maryland, she said.

"CSX has embarked on a very stringent plan to provide better service delivery on freight," said Ms. Burns, noting that freight trains do not run during the morning and evening commutes. "MARC service is 97 percent on-time, but right now freight service is frustrating."

The stadium area parking crunch is expected to worsen anyway as construction of the football stadium begins this year. That likely will reduce parking places for baseball games by about 2,000.

And many baseball fans will have to park farther away from the stadium as neighborhoods work to make it more difficult for commuters to park. In Federal Hill, for example, only residents and drivers with guest passes will be able to park on the street during games, said Howard Feldman, president of the Federal Hill South Neighborhood Association.

Since Camden Yards opened, the MARC train, with stops in suburbs such as Greenbelt and Laurel, has carried thousands of baseball fans from Washington -- including President Clinton on Opening Day 1993.

More than 1,100 people rode the train to the ballpark each game day in 1992, but that number fell to an average of 400 last year. CSX reduced the number of trains returning to Washington after the game from two to one.

The abrupt cancellation of the ballpark service is indicative of tensions between CSX and the MTA. CSX officials long have noted concerns about scheduling conflicts between passenger service for commuters and the schedules of freight trains -- the core of CSX's business.

"CSX has for some time expressed a view that they must move to minimize conflicts between freight and passenger service," Mr. Agro said. "At the same time, they have been able to offer baseball trains for the past four years."

A five-year service contract with CSX expired in October. and negotiations on a new contract are continuing.

The baseball trains were not part of the contract, and Mr. Agro said CSX recently has "taken the position that anything outside the contract, we're not doing."

"I think parties are always looking for leverage in negotiations," he said, though adding that CSX's action reflects "genuine concern" over conflicts between freight and passenger service.

Mr. Agro said the MTA will make train service to Camden Yards and the new football stadium a key point in contract negotiations.

Pub Date: 3/28/96

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