ANNAPOLIS — Maryland's Department of Transportation will study expanding MARC train service into Western Maryland under a new law the General Assembly passed last month.
The study is the result of a years-long effort by transit advocates in the state's western region, including Sen. Paul Corderman, R-Washington, who sponsored a bill requiring the evaluation and ultimately got it passed as part of another piece of legislation.
The legislation requires MDOT to explore three potential routes for expanding commuter rail access through Western Maryland. The routes would branch off the Brunswick line, which currently takes commuters to Frederick and into West Virginia, but does not extend into Washington County or further west.
Corderman said he hopes the study will be the first of several steps to bring commuter rail to Western Maryland.
"We want to get this train moving, and you've got to start with a study," he said.
The study was included as part of a larger transit bill that is still awaiting a signature from Gov. Larry Hogan. The bill requires MDOT to wrap up the study of a MARC expansion by 2023.
MDOT must also work with several "stakeholders" interested in commuter rail service, including the city of Hagerstown, the Washington and Allegany county boards of county commissioners, the city of Cumberland and the town of Hancock.
"We have a lot of folks that travel from Western Maryland to the D.C. Metro area, as well as the Baltimore area, for jobs," Corderman said. "We would love to have more job opportunities in Western Maryland and we will continue to fight and advocate for those, but at the same time we want to make sure there is accessibility to job opportunities throughout the state."
The study will also include a cost analysis and will consider whether existing rail infrastructure could be used in an expansion, or whether additional construction would be needed.
The results of the Western Maryland MARC study will be incorporated into MDOT's Statewide Transit Plan, which is expected to provide a 50-year outlook at transit in Maryland.
Corderman first proposed a legislative mandate for a study last year. His bill passed in the House, but did not make it out of the Senate during the pandemic-shortened 2020 session.
A legislative analysis suggested that the study could cost about $2 million over the next two years, but Corderman said the department previously advised that it would cost significantly less.
A message left with MDOT was not returned Monday.
Madeleine O'Neill covers the Maryland State House and state issues for the USA Today Network. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @maddioneill