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Friday, October 3, 2008

MARC =/= Metro

A lot of people criticize me for not liking MARC. I do like MARC, but I don't think it is a viable service to be integrated with Metro, and I think it only truly serves people who live and work along one of the corridors. Since it is not fully integrated with Metro, switching between the two services is an expensive inter-modal shift that deters people from using the system.

MARC's availability is another problem. Right now the system is wildly overcrowded. It only runs during the work week, during the day. The trains are overcrowded, and the availability to add more daily service is hampered by the fact that much of the system shares tracks with CSX and AMTRAK.

What really bothers me about the system is the fact that in the DC Metro area, MARC does not appear to influence transit-oriented development. Sure, some stations have good development, or at least plans for such development: Rockville, Silver Spring, Greenbelt, New Carrollton... of course, those stations all have Metro stations as well.

An excellent example of this would be the Kensington station. Kensington is on the Brunswick Line between Silver Spring and Rockville. Kensington is an incorporated town with a business district adjacent to the train station, but this station has done little to influence pedestrianism like in Rockville and Silver Spring, which have Metro stations. Kensington is merely a confluence of three rivers of cars, with a few office buildings and restaurants surrounded by parking.

View Larger Map of Kensington Lots of Parking fronting traffic gutters

I live on the Camden Line, perhaps the most useless fixed rail line in the region. I'm about halfway between the Laurel and Muirkirk stations. Muirkirk is a middle-of-nowhere station useful only to commuters who drive there from Beltsville. It serves no one. The Konterra development will be just across Rt 1, but it has seemingly little connectivity to the MARC station. It has been implied that Konterra's town center location along I-95 would support a new Metro station along I-95. Laurel is in the blossoming downtown of Laurel, a city of 30,000 people, but the station has little impact on development plans in the city. It seems that more of the development (such as Laurel Commons) has been more in anticipation for a future Metro station a mile or so south on an expanded Green Line.

View Larger Map of Muirkirk Station Office parks and no sidewalks

To make MARC a more viable system, it would require additional tracks along pretty much the entire system. Why not, then, build Metro tracks along the DC, PG, and MoCo portions of the system and connect those areas to the rest of the system with seamless transfers? Leave MARC as it is, a REGIONAL system that gets people between Baltimore, Washington, and Frederick. Heck, add another MARC line to Annapolis. We need MARC, but we can't treat it like a system that integrates areas into the greater transit system of the DC Metropolitan area.

MARC is not a suitable compliment to Metro. It may connect DC and Baltimore, but it doesn't connect Laurel, Bowie, Kensington, and other DC suburbs to the urban fabric of the metropolitan area.

My thoughts on replacing the stations on the lower portion of MARC with Metro:
Brunswick Line: Use the Yellow Line, build a spur at Ft. Totten and run along the Red Line to Silver Spring (Or better yet, run it under Georgia Avenue from Petworth Station to Silver Spring) and then along the Brunswick Line to Rockville.
Penn Line: Instead of terminating the Silver Line at Stadium-Armory, run the Silver Line along the Orange Line to New Carrollton and then extend it up to the BWI stop on the Penn Line. The Silver Line would then connect two major regional airports.
Camden Line: Bring the Green Line up to Laurel. Route One can support the TOD.

Of course this doesn't appear feasible, but as I have mentioned before, I believe our rail initiatives ought to be at least as ambitious as the Freeway Plan of the 1960's. Leave MARC. It is a great redundancy system for traveling between Baltimore and Washington. But instead of giving MARC more tracks, build tracks for a system that is going to effectively enhance the region's ability to develop more environmentally friendly transit-oriented suburbs with convenient transit access.


Alex B. said...

I think your proposal is totally backwards. Metro is extremely expensive to build. Furthermore, it's cost effectiveness drops rapidly the further you get from the core system. A line like the Dulles rail only makes sense because there aren't any other rail corridors in that quadrant of the metro area.

Upgrading MARC to service levels more akin to mass transit rather than commuter rail is a far easier and cost-efficient method. Look at Chicago, New York, and Philly's systems to get an idea of how you can increase frequencies and service levels. This is a far better use of existing assets.

You make a great point about fare integration and transfers, but that should be done regardless, and it shouldn't be the sole criteria for massive infrastructural plans.

Dave Murphy said...

Fare integration and transfers certainly are not the only reason I'm in favor of expanding Metro over upgrading MARC. MARC alone does not promote good growth at any station anywhere in Montgomery or Prince George's County.

Upgrading MARC is certainly easier and more cost effective initially, but I just don't believe that it is going to benefit Washington area communities that is serves. I challenge anyone to show me an example of smart urbanism that has occured as a direct result of a well placed MARC station.

Anonymous said...

MARC's contribution to the DC area transit network is a function of its level of service & its cost, not of its nametag. $200 million per mile is a crapload of money compared to what it would take to bring MARC & VRE up near Metro levels of service - and it would take a lot.

MARC hasn't promoted good growth as transportation substitution for cars because MARC hasn't been a form of general-purpose transportation, it's been strictly a daily commuter thing.

Dave Murphy said...

MARC and VRE can be brought to "near Metro levels of service" for very cheap, indeed. I am not claiming that they do not serve the area well, nor that they are undesiriable because they are "MARC" in name.

They are regional commuter trains. They do not run regularly because they share tracks. Many of the stations are in inopportune locations.

The purpose of MARC is primarily to connect DC and Baltimore (or Frederick/WV on the Brunswick Line), not serve the DC Metro area. I am appalled that transit advocates would be willing to settle for a lesser infrastructure in the name of saving money. Marylanders ought to be DEMANDING more Metro/light rail coverage over new suburban highways, not settling for MARC, a system that we mustered together with leftover highway funds.

Metro works. MARC is a stopgap. It is not feasible to attempt to fully integrate it with the WMATA system even after additional tracks are constructed, I don't understand the love affair with such a mediocre system.

Alex B. said...

Yes, the trains are slow because they share tracks. My point was that any high quality solution involves adding tracks, and adding more commuter rail tracks is substantially more cost-effective than adding metro tracks.

Add those tracks and MARC would be able to operate on 10-15 minute headways during peak hours.

Quite frankly, Metro is not going to be the answer for anything outside the beltway. It's a subway, for crying out loud. Metro already has a similar spatial extent as NYC's subway, yet it has about 1/3 of the revenue track miles and far fewer stations.

If you're looking for local-serving transit, then LRT might be the answer on some of those corridors, but extending Metro is just that - an extension. The value of a Metro extension drops the further you get away from the core. Commuter rail has the ability to travel faster making fewer stops.

The only reason I support Metro to Dulles is because there aren't any other rail corridors out there (the W&OD, unfortunately, is unusable for Commuter Rail). However, extending Metro along already existing and in use rail corridors like extending the Green line or the Orange line into PG does not carry that same benefit.

Anonymous said...

It's not even that...

Adding more rural freight tracks is even cheaper than adding commuter tracks (which have to deal with numerous RoW seizures & utilities). Most of the heavy freight in the area is through traffic. Constructing new corridors for them to use is relatively easy. It should be entirely possible to tear up a few dozen acres of farmland/forest & upgrade a few of the abandoned heavy-rail corridors. It's also justifiable to do so from a safety POV.

We *are* demanding more Metro... the choices are not mutually exclusive. Rather than building 20 miles of Metro, 10 miles of Metro where it's the only option, 20 miles of light rail / streetcars, and 30 miles of reclaimed heavy rail used for passenger service suits me just fine.

There will always be budgeting constraints... even if the federal subsidy goes up to 99% of capital costs, there are plenty of lines that just aren't economical to build or operate.

I don't care what the purpose or performance of MARC *has been* - I care what it *could feasably be*. It always comes down to the money and the location - neighborhoods grew up around rail-driven industrial sectors which are now commercialized. If paperpushing needs to happen (if MARC & VRE's DC-area operations need to be WMATA-owned) to get service levels reasonable, so be it; It would be much cheaper for taxpayers than spending $200 million per mile having parallel rail lines compete with each other - we have other corridors to spend rail development money on.

Dave Murphy said...

Perhaps I ought to clarify... When I use "Metro" I'm referring to the Metro system, not necessarily the heavy rail currently synonymous with the system.

If a Purple Line is built (and I certainly hope it is) it will most likely be a light rail. I think we can fully integrate a light rail into the Metro system, something that I feel might be far more difficult with the existing MARC system.

For example, instead of building new MARC tracks between Union Station and College Park (a stretch that currently only serves the Riverdale station) perhaps a light rail would be more suitable. a few more stations could be constructed in some of the more walkable areas (Hyattsville, Mount Rainier, Ivy City). The Riverdale station could be handed over to this new light rail, speeding up MARC service.

There are a couple places I might advocate for heavy rail/extensions of existing lines (such as the heavily populated Route 1 corridor from College Park to Laurel), however light rail could largely replace the need for new MARC tracks in Montgomery and Prince George's County (Corridor Cities Transitway, for example).

building seperate MARC tracks seems to me to be handing over valuable rights-of-way to serve the needs of commuters coming from Frederick and Baltimore, not the residents of MOntgomery and PG who live along the portions of the corridor where the ROW is perhaps most valuable.

Peter Fosselman said...

I am an avid supporter of the MARC system. As a matter of fact I just returned this evening from a meeting lead by Delegate Al Carr and the State with reference to the improvements slated for the train system.
I am troubled by your lack of knowledge about Kensington. The Town is under new leadership, has a new Master Plan underway, the nationally renowned Urban Land Institute conducting a study, a 1.3 million dollar parking facility being built adjacent to the MARC Station, continued meetings with Governor Martin O’Malley and his staff on improvements throughout Kensington, a County Council and Executive committed to ongoing revitalization efforts by the Town Government, and the support of its Residents of whom several use the MARC system every morning.
Please take a second look at Kensington!
Peter Fosselman, Mayor

Dave Murphy said...

Mayor Fosselman,

Thank you for your interest in this post.

My observations were perhaps harshly worded. By "traffic gutters" I intended to imply that roads such as Connecticut Avenue and University Boulevard do not embrace the town through which they run, rather serve to funnel cars between Chevy Chase and Kensington. From what I have read in the 17 September Gazette article ( the master plan intends to address this situation. I apologize for being unaware of the development when writing my post, as I would have opted to use the following from the Gazette article to emphasize my point:

" planner Fred Boyd said the plan will evolve differently from other sector plans currently in the works because Kensington's location between the White Flint and Wheaton Metro stations, combined with limited MARC service, "may preclude significant dependence on Metro." Therefore, adding density to the area will not be a primary goal as it has been in other plans."