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Maryland approves plan to expand MARC commuter trains into D.C., Virginia

Trains could be operating across the Potomac River within a few years.

A MARC train arrives at the Laurel station last year. (Mark Gail for The Washington Post)

In one of its last orders of business Wednesday, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill to expand Maryland commuter train service past Union Station in the District and into Virginia.

MARC trains could be operating across the Potomac River within a few years if the measure is signed into law by Gov. Larry Hogan (R).

Del. Jared Solomon (D-Montgomery), the lead sponsor of the legislation, said the proposal will help connect Maryland and Virginia, and give Maryland commuters the option of a one-seat ride to jobs in Northern Virginia. The measure was approved in the last minutes of the legislative session that was cut short by the global coronavirus pandemic.

“When we emerge from the health crisis, we’ll need to grow our economy,” Solomon said in a tweet late Wednesday. “A 21st century rail network is key.”

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Under the proposal, the Maryland Transit Administration would be required to enter negotiations with the District, Virginia and the railroads that use and own the tracks south of Union Station to allow MARC trains to carry passengers into parts of Arlington and Alexandria. It is unclear if Hogan will sign the bill.

Supporters of the bill say the service extension is critical to the future of the regional economy and in anticipation of an influx of development and jobs across the Potomac River — namely the arrival of Amazon’s second headquarters in Crystal City.

The legislation urges the Maryland Department of Transportation to reach a written agreement on a pilot program to have MARC trains sharing the tracks with the Virginia Railway Express to serve L’Enfant Plaza, Crystal City and Alexandria. The proposed pilot would include two southbound trips in the morning and two northbound trips in the evening.

That service, officials say, is possible even before the anticipated expansion of Long Bridge, which connects the District and Virginia, and is being expanded to double capacity for train traffic over the Potomac.

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The bill also orders a similar agreement with Delaware and train companies in the state to close a gap in service between Perryville and Newark, Del. MARC’s Penn Line, which terminates in Perryville, could extend the 20 miles to Newark under the plan, providing a service long requested by residents in Maryland’s Cecil County.

The legislation also orders a study on building a rail connection between Penn Station and Camden Station in the Baltimore area.

Business leaders and transit advocates testified earlier this month in support of the legislation.

Joe McAndrew, director of transportation policy for the Greater Washington Partnership who’s one of the biggest supporters of the bill and of a larger network of commuter trains in the region, said the bill’s passage “places Maryland in position to meaningfully improve the usefulness of the MARC service for Maryland residents.

“The state needed the nudge, and this bill shows the seriousness and importance needed to maximize the potential economic and societal benefit from our region’s critical rail assets,” McAndrew said.