Be sure you don’t dig a hole for yourself. Anticipate what MDOT thinks is the biggest transit problem in Maryland, not what buffs considers it to be. (Invariably we want more trains, particularly over tracks that don’t currently have passenger service.) Starting new service is not necessarily a “problem” for them. In fact, MDOT may not want to do it at all. From what I’ve heard so far, there’s not enough potential passenger traffic to justify MARC service on the Pope’s Creek line or between Baltimore and Frederick. If this situation changes due to population growth, be sure you get into specifics, such as where stations should be that could best serve the public. Be sure you don’t recommend stations where the locals don’t want them. For example, Clifton, VA, on VRE’s Manassas line, is small and wants to stay that way. The people there don’t want increased vehicular traffic in their little town. VRE trains just roll right by and anyone who wants to ride must find a station in another town.
MARC puts out daily emails to riders on problems arising and how late trains might be running, if they’re not cancelled out of necessity (as they sometimes are). Look at some of these over the course of a few weeks and you’ll get an idea of where they see ongoing, current problems that need correction.
Talk to conductors and locomotive engineers, to customer service people, those involved with signal, track and structure maintenance. Where do they see problems in the performance of their duties? What could you recommend that would make a significant improvement, and how would you implement your recommendation?
Find out how well service is integrated between buses, light rail, the Baltimore subway, heavy rail and the DC subway. Can it be improved? How? Would it cost more? If so, what would you recommend as a way of paying for it? By reducing service or costs elsewhere or asking the state for more money?
Talk to those involved with locomotive and rail car maintenance. How quickly is that equipment wearing out, when will it need to be replaced, how much will it cost, how will it be phased in, how will it be financed (none of it will be cheap), and what will be done with retired equipment?
How can the problem of fitting commuter trains between freights be alleviated? If you can somehow completely satisfy all parties involved, you’ll be a star.
I hope I’ve given you a few ideas to consider. Good luck with the internship.