The Maryland Transit Administration is considering adding a third track to MARC's Brunswick Line, though it is not yet clear who would pay for it.
CSX Transportation owns the Brunswick Line and operates freight trains, while MARC leases the rails for the state-run commuter trains. The line itself runs from Union Station through central Montgomery County, including Silver Spring, Gaithersburg and Boyds, then branches out to Frederick and Martinsburg, W.Va.
The proposed third track would be added beside the 12 miles of rail line between Gaithersburg's Metropolitan Grove station and the Montgomery County-Frederick County line, according to a Nov. 8 master plan staff report to the Montgomery County Planning Department. The report did not estimate the project's cost.
Under current conditions, passenger service is less reliable than it could be, and there are conflicts between freight and passenger service, Master Planner Larry Cole said.
“Additional rail capacity is the only feasible way to significantly reduce those conflicts and expand MARC service,” the report stated.
According to the report, MTA once preferred a bigger expansion, which would run a third track from Point of Rocks in Frederick County to Kensington. Cole and his staff recommended a smaller expansion “because of the potential impacts to adjacent development.”
“MTA recognizes that a third track through Gaithersburg appears to be extremely challenging,” MTA spokesperson Joe Sviatko said, though no detailed planning has been done.
In any event, to expand MARC service, the MTA must consult CSX, he said.
“A contract exists between the MTA and CSX allowing us to run MARC trains on their rails,” he said. “Any service in addition to that contract would have to be negotiated with CSX.”
CSX spokesman Robert Sullivan said the company is willing to discuss proposals with the state, but they must meet at least four conditions.
The new commuter rail service must be safe for existing and future rail operations, and it must not compromise CSX freight service, Sullivan said. It also cannot generate any extra costs for CSX, and it cannot create liability for CSX or its shareholders.
The MTA's Growth and Investment Plan, released in 2007, also proposed an expansion to the Brunswick Line that would carry passengers through Union Station to Northern Virginia. Current daily ridership is 7,000 passengers on MARC's Brunswick Line, but according to the staff report, ridership would grow to 26,000 passengers daily under MTA's plan.Cole said it was also a possibility that VRE trains would extend service through Union Station to the Silver Spring area, but the plans have been pushed back.
“The Growth and Investment Plan came out right before the economy fell apart,” Cole said.
Cole said the main sponsor of the third-track expansion could be the state, though it is possible Montgomery County would contribute funds.
According to Sviatko, the project is only in its preliminary stages.
“There has not been any planning for these projects nor has any funding been identified,” he said.
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