Economic development board backs rail service to Hancock

by Kate Shunney

Morgan County’s Economic Development Authority (EDA) has put its support behind a resolution proposing that the Maryland Transportation Authority (MTA) extend commuter train service out to Hancock, W.Va.

The Maryland agency operates the Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) train – the D.C. area commuter rail service.

MARC’s Brunswick line serves the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia and ends at Martinsburg.

Morgan County EDA members approved a resolution last week asking Maryland to consider bringing the MARC train westward to Hancock as a way to increase passengers and generate revenue.

Having a commuter train in this area would benefit residents, tourism and potentially bring more federal funding to the train service, the EDA resolution said.

This year, Maryland officials have demanded that West Virginia pay a larger portion of the costs of running the commuter trains into the state.

West Virginia legislators agreed to pay $1.1 million to keep the trains running into the Eastern Panhandle. Maryland has said it needs $3.4 million to continue running three trains each morning and three each evening.

According to news reports, West Virginia governor Jim Justice said the state would pay the additional $2 million to Maryland if the towns and counties served by the rail line would come up with the additional $300,000. A deadline to come up with the funds was set for November 30.

Eight localities, including Shepherdstown, Ranson, Charles Town, Harpers Ferry, Bolivar, Martinsburg, Berkeley and Jefferson Counties have all agreed to contribute to the rail costs.

Morgan County EDA Executive Director Daryl Cowles, who is also a West Virginia Delegate, said the idea of bringing passenger train service back to the Hancock station has resurfaced several times in the last two decades.

“We’ve always wanted a MARC train stop here,” said Cowles.

“Extending the MARC commuter service west to Hancock is a very popular idea,” said Susan Webster, a member of the EDA board and longtime member of the Town of Bath council. “It is creative thinking to increase ridership, expand services, and share the funding load among more passengers.”

Webster was part of a “Tristate Rail Effort Committee” that worked from 1997 to 2006 with officials from Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania to extend the MARC lines.

Cowles said bringing the passenger train to a Hancock station is a “possible solution to the funding showdown over MARC Train Service.”

The group’s resolution cites benefits from adding commuter passengers and potentially adding a “reverse commute” for tourists to come west on Friday evening and back to the city on Monday morning.

“I do think it would be a boost for a commuter train to serve southern Pennsylvania and Western Maryland,” Cowles said.

He said federal dollars helped build a layover facility for the MARC train in Martinsburg. Those dollars might be available to build a passenger facility at the Hancock station.

In 2000, a study was released by the Appalachian Regional Commission pointing toward “positive results” for a MARC extension to Hancock.

Cowles said he hopes one of the outcomes of the resolution might be an updated study on the costs, rider demographics and economic impact of a Hancock station.

“Therefore be it resolved: the Morgan County Economic Development Authority requests state leaders in Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania; transportation officials on the local, regional, and state levels; and Governor Justice of WV and Governor Hogan of MD to consider the opportunities available with a line extension of MARC Train to Hancock: increased ridership opportunities; increased revenues; possible Federal funding opportunities; expanded services to western MD, southern PA, and across the WV eastern panhandle; increased job opportunities; increased options for taxpayers/commuters; increased tourism opportunities; and a step towards a long-term funding plan & agreement,” the resolution reads.

EDA members voted on November 26 to support the resolution and forward it to Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania officials.