by Geoff Fox
Susan Webster from the Town of Bath, W.Va. spoke with Hancock officials last month to renew her support for a train extension effort after seeing an article on the topic in The Hancock News.
Webster told town officials she knew Maryland legislators passed statutes encouraging the study and exploration of extending MARC train service to Hancock and Cumberland.
She said it was with great interest that she was coming to Hancock to offer help and support from Morgan County and the Town of Bath in moving forward with the train study, and helping the town in any way possible.
Webster pointed to an online survey to find out the public interest and support in having the service coming to Hancock, W.Va.
Webster told town officials the information in the study is “very interesting if you haven’t read it yet.”
She said the issue of reverse ridership – the flip side of commuter service — would mean tourism dollars coming to both Hancock and Berkeley Springs.
Webster brought Hancock officials copies of resolution Town of Bath officials signed three years ago in support of the train service.
“To my knowledge, everyone is still behind it,” she said.
There was a tri-county rail effort, which started in 1997, Webster said.
Over the course of the last 26 years, many factors delayed movement on the service study.
“We just want to express our support,” Webster said of the Bath/Berkeley Springs and Morgan County officials.
Be some need of help from West Virginia as much of the extension is in that state from Martinsburg to Hancock, W.Va, and beyond.
“So you will need the assistance of the West Virginia government and the opinion of the people,” she said.
“We’re with you on this. We’re on board with you,” she said. “We want to help.”
Ivan Lanier from Greenwill Consulting said one of the bills that has been introduced and is making its way through committee is forming the Maryland Railroad Commission and looking at using funding from tolls to finance the project.
Because Hancock is included in the project, Lanier said Greenwill is monitoring the bill.
Lanier said legislators are actively trying to find a way to fund the westward expansion of the trains.
Webster said the funding is very important and a project like this is going to be expensive.
“Otherwise, if there isn’t funding for it, what they passed a couple years ago to increase the exploration of this is feel good legislation. There’s nothing behind it to make it happen,” W ebster said.
There’s consideration and exploration, but W ebster said to actually do it is a very costly thing.
“I’m glad to see they’re taking that step further,” she said. “That’s something we should watch and support as we can.”
Lanier said he’d get Webster a copy of the legislation for her records.
Mayor Tim Smith said Lanier is the town’s ears in Annapolis and as he g ives updates to Hancock officials, Smith said they’d pass those on to Webster.
Town Manager Mike Faith told town officials later in the meeting he had read the 35-page document and thought town |officials could draft a letter in support of extending the MARC train service to Hancock.
He did point out bringing the extension to Hancock, W.Va., would be MDOT MTA’s cheapest option compared to the three options into Hagerstown.
Faith also pointed out the downside of having the Hancock stop, which would be the lower ridership of the four options.
“They would have a lot of challenges down towards Montgomery County in that area with some of the other extensions they’re proposing to Hagerstown,” Faith said.
“I think we have a good argument to have that extension done to Cumberland,” Faith said.
Faith also argued if the they could tailor the commuter train stop with workforce housing in Hancock, the town would be set up to protect keeping Hancock High School open in the future.