Environment Maryland Research and Policy Center
The Maryland Area Rail Commuter System
Each year, the Maryland Area Rail Commuter (MARC) system saves area travelers about 7.1 million gallons of gasoline – the same amount of fuel consumed by more than 12,000 cars annually.
Transportation is responsible for more than two-thirds of our nation’s oil consumption and nearly a third of our carbon dioxide emissions. To reduce pollution and our dependence on oil, we need transportation alternatives that use less energy.
MARC is a great example of how we can reduce energy consumption, curb our dependence on oil, and minimize pollution, while at the same time improving our quality of life, saving commuters money, and strengthening the economy.
More than half of all Maryland residents live within five miles of the MARC system, which traverses the state from West Virginia to the tip of the Chesapeake Bay. MARC strengthens the link between Baltimore and Washington D.C., allowing commuters to travel by rail between work and home from across the state along three lines:
- Penn: Service between Washington, D.C., and Perryville, MD;
- Camden: Service between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore; and
- Brunswick: Service between Washington, D.C., and Martinsburg, WV.
MARC ridership has increased steadily, averaging about 6 percent annual growth over the past decade.2 In 2009, riders made 8.1 million trips on MARC, or more than 30,000 trips per weekday.3 The current MARC Growth and Investment Plan projects significant expansion in the decades to come, potentially reaching more than 100,000 trips per day by 2035.
MARC Reduces Energy Consumption, Oil Dependence and Pollution
Travel on MARC trains uses less energy than travel via automobiles, helping to curb dependence on oil. Rail cars carry more passengers than automobiles. A single MARC train can carry hundreds of passengers, replacing hundreds of car trips and enabling highway traffic to flow more freely – reducing the amount of fuel wasted in traffic jams.
MARC’s energy efficiency, combined with avoided highway congestion and the role of MARC in bringing about less auto-dependent forms of development, results in a reduction of overall energy use by an amount equivalent to 7.1 million gallons of gasoline per year.
MARC also emits less global warming pollution than automobiles. Each year, MARC service averts 51,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution.
Tripling ridership on MARC would reduce traffic congestion, encourage compact growth near rail stations, and provide an alternative to auto commuting, thereby reducing energy use and pollution.
MARC Strengthens Our Economy and Improves Our Quality of Life
MARC strengthens Maryland’s economy and improves our quality of life in several ways.
Commuter rail is an integral part of a comprehensive smart growth strategy to create compact land use patterns and provide people with more mobility choices – transit, biking and walking. For example, several new condo buildings have been developed a few blocks away from Baltimore’s Penn Station, within walking distance to shops and restaurants.
MARC also saves commuters money. Paying to ride MARC can be cheaper than paying to own, operate, fuel and park an automobile. Drivers who use public transit enough that their family requires one less car save as much as $9,200 every year by avoiding the costs of vehicle ownership, maintenance and operation.
Investing in transit creates jobs. In the year since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, investments in transit and rail have created more than twice as many jobs per federal dollar invested than comparable investments in new road projects.
In addition, commuter rail is one of the safest forms of commuting, with a death and injury rate one quarter that of comparable automobile travel per passenger mile. Investment in projects like the MARC rail system creates high quality, green jobs.
Recently, the Obama Administration announced a $30 million federal transit safety program to address critical needs and ensure a high and standard level of safety across all rail transit systems.
Improving MARC Service Will Benefit the Public and the Environment
By pursuing improvements on all three MARC lines, Maryland can benefit from transit-oriented development, cheaper transportation costs, and a stronger economy, while decreasing our dependence on oil and impact on the environment.
MARC’s investment plan includes capital investments for safety and reliability upgrades. Possible improvements include:
- Lengthening existing trains/adding new coaches to accommodate growing ridership;
- Increasing the frequency of service during peak and non-peak hours;
- Providing late evening and weekend service;
- Improving reliability with more on-time arrivals and departures;
- Enhancing rail stations and expanding parking facilities;
- Extending service to L’Enfant Plaza/Washington D.C and Northern Virginia;
- Expanding access to Baltimore regional transit; and
- Signal, track and other equipment/capital improvements.
Effective Policies Will Expand and Improve MARC
In order to make these improvements a reality, our leaders should make MARC and similar projects a priority for transportation investments by taking the following approaches:
Increase federal investment in commuter rail as well as light rail, high-speed rail, and better walking and biking facilities by:
- Prioritizing funding for rail, transit and cleaner transportation options.
- Encouraging and rewarding states that “flex” eligible federal funding toward public transportation. State departments of transportation have great latitude in how federal money is spent once it is allocated to the state. Frequently, it is directed towards projects that do little to reduce oil dependence or pollution. Federal funding is apportioned to each state based on formulas which end up rewarding higher fuel consumption, lane-miles of highway, and miles driven. These formulas should be revised so funding provides incentives to reduce, not increase, oil use and pollution.
Increase flexibility to use federal funds to pay for train maintenance and day-to-day operations, in addition to improving and expanding capacity. Rail systems like MARC face growing demand, but are having to reduce service and delay improvements in order to stay afloat. Federal, state and local funds should allow for greater flexibility in funding operations – enabling buses and trains to keep running safely and effectively during economic downturns, when people need transit most.
By adopting these approaches, we can strengthen MARC and create a future where people have more transportation choices for traveling between where they live, work and play. MARC’s widespread appeal demonstrates the demand and potential for better public transportation. It is imperative that policy and investments accentuate and accelerate this trend in order to cut oil consumption, reduce pollution, and make our communities more vibrant and livable.