Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Weekend Commuter Rail Service in DC

This weekend, my hometown of DC will join an elite group of cities offering commuter rail service on weekends. (Among the number are New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago). In the past, as in the pre-Amtrak days, the B&O line did run a couple of Saturday trips to and from Harper’s Ferry from Washington, DC as late as the 1970’s. This would’ve been a fun and low-cost day trip; however, Amtrak consolidated the weekend commuter service with the long distance train, which multiplied the price of a ticket. Now, 40 years later, weekend commuter service is coming back on the Penn Line between Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD. Looking at the schedule, the primary intent is to serve Baltimoreans who want to visit DC. Which is a huge complement to us; saying that we are no longer just a 9-to-5, Monday-through-Friday town. The new rail service is one of Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s pet projects, on the planning board since 2007. However, there was no funding until this year’s transportation bill. But it was not a post-recession surplus or economic growth that made the money available for this project, and a light rail in Baltimore City—it was a hike in the gas tax. Of course, suburbanites and rural pols were shocked with the audacious plan, but O’Malley represents the inner-city, and Baltimore City is his base of support (in his 2010 re-election, he carried only the City of Baltimore, and DC’s inner suburbs, while losing some 20 other counties in the state). Only in Maryland, it seems, could a city get the state to pay for an urban light rail; or to subsidize rail passengers who intend on spending money in DC. But indeed, I have wanted this new rail service, and will likely visit Baltimore more often because of it. I feel that many fellow Washingtonians share this view. Yet as I will enjoy the view out the panoramic windows of the railroad car, I’ll remember my gas-guzzler-driving high school and college Marylander friends who helped to pay for my ride to Charm City.

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