Transit agency, CSX resume contract talks Two sides discuss MARC for first time since crash

July 27, 1996|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,SUN STAFF

For the first time since last winter's train accident in Silver Spring that left 11 people dead, representatives of CSX Transportation Inc. and the state transit agency yesterday resumed contract talks over the future of Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) service.

Both sides described the discussions over the now-expired contract between CSX and the Mass Transit Administration as cordial, but inconclusive.

CSX, which operates MARC for the state, suggested that the MTA and federal government pay for a third track on the CSX-owned Washington-to-Brunswick line to relieve congestion.

The Brunswick Line was the site of the fiery, head-on collision between a MARC train and Amtrak's Capitol Limited on Feb. 16.

While a cause of the crash has not yet been officially determined, CSX officials have expressed concern about their increasingly crowded tracks and potential conflicts between CSX freight trains and MARC trains.

One potential solution would be for the state and federal government to pay for a third track on that line, said P. Michael Giftos, a senior vice president with CSX Transportation. The MTA estimates that would cost taxpayers about $800 million.

"I haven't ruled anything out, but $800 million is a sizable investment and you have to consider the viability of making that investment in somebody else's railroad," said MTA Administrator John A. Agro Jr.

Giftos said other, less-expensive alternatives were discussed, but he and Agro declined to describe them.

"There is a finite capacity we have out there today," Giftos said. "If we continue to ask it to handle more demand, reliability will deteriorate."

Besides the Brunswick Line, CSX operates MARC passenger trains between Washington and Baltimore on the Camden Line. The two lines provide more than 10,000 passenger rides each weekday, or about 5,000 round trips.

The MTA has projected passenger growth on both lines, but the Brunswick is considered critical. MARC officials want to serve Frederick by 1999, a project that could add 1,500 daily riders.

A five-year CSX-MARC contract expired in October and the two sides have been working by way of a temporary operating agreement ever since. Last month, CSX convinced state officials to pay for higher liability insurance coverage -- $300 million instead of $200 million -- for 120 days beginning July 1.

That insurance agreement will expire Nov. 1, and Giftos said that is a "very real deadline" for settling the contract talks without risking a halt in MARC service. The MTA currently pays CSX about $15 million annually to run MARC trains.

"I'm confident we will agree to an arrangement," Giftos said. "We just want to be reimbursed for our costs."

Pub Date: 7/27/96

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