Planned Commuter Rail Investments Align With Identified Regional Priorities

Mar 31, 2014

Both Maryland and Virginia have announced updated plans to keep their respective commuter rail systems in a state of good repair and to expand capacity on existing routes to serve more riders.

The states submitted the updated plans for inclusion in the 2014 update to the region's Constrained Long-Range Transportation Plan, or CLRP, which identifies hundreds of regionally significant projects and programs that area transportation agencies expect to be able to afford to build or implement by 2040.

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The maintenance and expansion plans for the two systems -- MARC in Maryland, and Virginia Railway Express in Virginia, known as VRE -- are aligned with two key elements of the Regional Transportation Priorities Plan, approved by the Transportation Planning Board in January.

Above all, the Priorities Plan calls for proper maintenance of the region's existing transportation system, of which commuter rail is an important part. The plan says that keeping existing transit, roads, and bridges safe and in good working order is essential before the region can move on to other improvements.

The Priorities Plan also calls for expanding capacity on the existing transit system, as a way to take greater advantage of infrastructure that's already in place.

The updated commuter rail plans include approximately $2 billion in enhancements that the two operating agencies expect to be able to afford between now and 2040. Many of the improvements and much of the funding had already been identified previously, but recent updates reflect new funding and policy opportunities in both states.

In all, VRE has identified nearly $1 billion in improvements, including buying additional railcars, expanding station platforms and parking facilities, and upgrading equipment storage and maintenance facilities.

VRE plans to make about $200 million in improvements by 2020, to allow train frequencies to be increased from once every 30 minutes to once every 20 minutes during peak periods and to enable the system to carry up to 25,000 passengers per day. Today the system handles about 19,000 daily passengers.

VRE's package of enhancements represents a portion of the larger, $3.2-billion VRE System Plan, the remainder of which will be added to the CLRP in future years as additional funding becomes available.

In Maryland, a little more than $1 billion in planned improvements have been identified, including the purchase or refurbishment of hundreds of railcars and locomotives, numerous station improvements, and expanded service on all three lines, including more weekend and off-peak service on the Penn Line to Baltimore.

Maryland's package of improvements, which are all planned to be made before 2030, are part of the larger, statewide MARC Growth and Investment Plan, which spells out additional improvements through 2050.

The two states' updated commuter rail investment plans join nine other major projects slated to be included in the 2014 update to the CLRP. The projects are due to be approved by the TPB on April 16 for inclusion in the federally required air quality conformity assessment, which is required before the TPB considers the entire CLRP, including the new projects, for final approval in October.

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