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Transit advocates want more MARC for I-270 relief

MARC train riders walk to catch a Brunswick line train at the Olde Towne Gaithersburg station. (Anthony Castellano/The Gazette)

The Action Committee for Transit proposed Monday that Maryland’s transportation department find a different way to spend the $100 million set aside for innovate congestion relief on Interstate 270: Add more service on the MARC commuter train line.

The Montgomery County transit advocates submitted a proposal Monday to add a second train platform at Point of Rocks station so that Frederick-bound trains on MARC’s Brunswick Line could stop there, to build a third track between the Monocacy River and Barnesville so passenger trains can pass freight trains and to buy more train cars.

“We’re submitting this proposal to show that there’s a better way to spend the money,” ACT board member Ben Shnider said in a statement outlining the MARC plan.

He said state transportation officials are “hoping that some consulting company will figure out a way to fit more cars on the same amount of asphalt on I-270.”

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Gov. Larry Hogan and state Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn have asked companies to propose high-tech ways to cut congestion on Interstate 270 between Frederick and the Capital Beltway, one of the main commuter highways in the D.C. region. State officials are scheduled to make a decision in February, though it is possible that no company would be selected if the state finds no proposal acceptable.

“This is purely a performance-based procurement,” Rahn said in May during an interview with The Post’s Katherine Shaver. “Whoever can move the most traffic the furthest will be selected to implement their design.”

In a July statement, he said, “The winning proposer will move the most vehicles, the fastest, the farthest.”

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ACT wants the state transportation department to withdraw its request for proposals and invest the money in expanding the MARC service in the I-270 corridor. “We can’t afford to waste $100 million on consultants’ speculation,” Shnider said.

In the proposal being sent to the state, ACT writes: “The Brunswick/Frederick rail lines owned by CSX, and used by the MARC trains, provide an excellent option for expanding capacity in the I-270 corridor.”

In the corridor, “MARC carries nearly 8,000 passengers a day, the same as two lanes of I-270 in each peak direction during rush hour, with less pollution, less energy consumed, fewer accidents, more trip time predictability and less stress,” according to the proposal.

The ACT plan for MARC service would add one round trip at peak periods and one for off-peak. The infrastructure to support the extra service would include sections of triple track to allow the unimpeded passage of freight and passenger trains, as well as another locomotive and five new passenger cars. The new platform at Point of Rocks would be needed to allow Frederick trains to load and unload, ACT said. Frederick trains don’t stop at Point of Rocks because the station has no platforms to serve the Frederick branch.

The transit advocates estimate that the additional service and improvements would attract 700 new passengers in the peak direction at each rush hour by 2025.