What If You Could Get from Philly to D.C. on Public Transit?

There are talks to extend MARC, the Maryland-based commuter train service, to Wilmington, providing a connection to Philadelphia via SEPTA.

Septa regional rail train

There are a few ways to get from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C.: You can shell out the dough for Amtrak (expensive!), sit in traffic on I-95 (exhausting!), take the bus (slow!) or fly (bank-breaking!). That could change in the coming years, making travel between the two cities much easier and cheaper.

MARC and DART, Maryland and Delaware’s respective public transportation agencies, are currently discussing the possibility of bridging a long-time gap between Newark — a DART bus hub and SEPTA’s southern terminus — and Perryville, Maryland, MARC’s northernmost commuter rail stop, 20 miles away. Right now, that stretch has no commuter transportation, save for Amtrak and regional bus lines. 

John Sisson, the CEO of DART, Delaware’s transit authority, told the Wilmington News Journal, “We’re still in that planning process. Do you run a commuter rail service from Philadelphia to Baltimore, do you run Wilmington to Baltimore, or do you run Newark to Baltimore?” He added that the only stretch in the entire Northeast rail corridor without commuter rail service is between Perryville and Newark because there hasn’t previously been demand.

Julie Theyerl, a DelDOT employee, said in a statement, “There is no proposal on the table at this time [for the MARC extension]. We continue to have discussions with our various partners (SEPTA, MARC, and Amtrak) about closing the gap in commuter rail service between Newark and Perryville.”

And Jerri Williams, SEPTA’s Director of Media Relations, told Philly Mag, “SEPTA has been made loosely aware of the discussions between MARC and Delaware transit officials.” Asked if SEPTA could foresee itself having a role in the process, Williams added, “We’d be open to and interested in knowing what, if any, larger role SEPTA could have in the planning.”

The project is dependent on, among other factors, the renovation of Newark’s passenger rail station. A proposed extra track could allow SEPTA to operate additional trains between Newark and Philly (SEPTA is reportedly paid upward of $250,000 a year to operate round-trip service between Philly and Delaware). That project is slated to start next year and must be completed by 2018 if the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) wants to receive a $10 million federal grant for the project in addition to the funding assistance it is receiving from the University of Delaware and Amtrak.

Once that project is complete — allowing two commuter rail trains to serve Newark simultaneously — potential MARC service to Delaware could begin. The cost of extending the service is unknown, and would entail either operating trains while they’re in Delaware or also paying to extend the tracks to either Newark or Wilmington, Sisson told the News Journal. He is talking to Maryland transit officials next week.

Theyerl said that studies have to be done to evaluate demand for the service, and that any rail extension is contingent upon funding, infrastructure improvements, equipment availability and agreements between the various agencies, including Amtrak.

Currently, to get from Philadelphia to Newark on SEPTA, passengers pay $6.50 one-way fare (if purchased at a SEPTA ticket window; $8.00 cash if bought on board). MARC trains run from Washington, D.C. to Perryville, Maryland, for $12.00 one-way.