The Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) train service has long served commuters in central Maryland. Before last year, MARC trains along the Penn Line ran exclusively on weekdays to serve commuters working traditional 9-5 jobs in the Baltimore region. Riders with a less than traditional, weekend commute had to pay Amtrak’s $16 fares compared with MARC’s week day $7 fares from Penn Station in Baltimore to Union Station in D.C.
However, in December 2013, the Maryland Transit Authority (MTA) announced it would extend MARC train service along the Penn Line to run nine round-trips on Saturdays and six round-trips on Sundays, with capacity limited to three-car trains.
My first time using the MARC weekend service was in early January to travel from Baltimore to D.C. for TransportationCamp 2014. The “unconference” started with hundreds of transportation planners and transit enthusiasts introducing themselves as a microphone was passed around a large room in George Mason University’s Founders Hall. The introduction required attendees to explain why they were at the conference using only three words. One response that got a lot of cheers was “MARC weekend service.” These three words really had two meanings:
- Figuratively, transportation planners show up to these kinds of events because of successes like the MARC weekend service and the future success it foreshadows;
- Literally, some attendees, myself included, used the newly installed MARC weekend service to get to the event.
Only three months after its initiation and two months after TransportationCamp, it was announced that MARC weekend service along the Penn line would be expanded to four and five-car trains instead of the initial two and three-car trains. Baltimore’s Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and other public and private advocates have continued to rally for increased rail transportation funding. With increased funding, the Baltimore region will likely see the continuance of much needed upgrades and added amenities in multiple communities. In turn, it’s reasonable to expect that more transit-oriented development will result from the added infrastructure. Some projects, such as station renovations in Halethorpe, Maryland and a pilot bikeshare program at the BWI Airport station, are already completed or underway.
During a recent trip to D.C., I spotted this somewhat hidden suggestion box at Baltimore’s Pennsylvania Station. Here are some of my spitball suggestions:
- Create a mobile app for all MARC train services, including a feature for submitting suggestions;
- Improve connections to MARC using light rail and bus services, and include this info in the aforementioned app;
- Continue to integrate the exterior of the station into the adjacent Station North art district;
- Consider integrating the existing retail and other fixtures in the station to complement its beautiful Beaux Arts style architecture (for example, do not place giant trash cans in front of wall reliefs);
- Please continue to provide MARC weekend service.
There is always room for improvement, but MARC weekend service has clearly been a positive change for residents and visitors of Baltimore. During that recent trip to D.C., it almost seemed some passengers on the platform would have to wait for the next train because so many people were taking advantage of the service.
If your city successfully acquired additional funding for rail transportation, which project would you suggest as a top priority?
Credits: Images by Jade Clayton. Data linked to sources.