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The Baltimore Light Rail is a small light rail network serving Baltimore, Maryland and the surrounding suburbs. As of 2002, it has a daily ridership of 36,000. It is operated by the Maryland Transit Administration.
The origins of the Baltimore Light Rail ultimately lie in a transit plan drawn up for the Baltimore area in 1966 that envisioned six rapid transit lines radiating out from the city center. By 1983, only a single line had been built: the "Northwest" line, which became the current Metro Subway. However, much of the plan's "North" and "South" lines ran along right-of-way once used by interurban streetcar routes, and remained available for transit development.
Beginning in the late 1980s, Maryland Governor and former Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer put his considerable energy behind building a transit line along this corridor, motivated in part by a desire to establish a rail transit link to the new downtown baseball park being built at Camden Yards for the Baltimore Orioles. The Light Rail line was built relatively quickly and cheaply, and without money from the U.S. federal government, a rarity in late 20th century U.S. transit projects. The initial system was a single 22.5 mile (36 km) line, all at grade except for a bridge over the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River just south of downtown Baltimore. The line ran from Timonium in Baltimore County in the north to Glen Burnie in Anne Arundel County in the south. The Light Rail began service in April 1992, the same month that Orioles began play at Camden Yards.
Three extensions to the system were added in 1997. In September of that year, the line was extended north 4.5 miles (7 km) to Hunt Valley, adding five stations that served a major business park and a mall. In December, two short but important spurs were added to the system: one a 0.34 mile (550 m) spur in Baltimore that provided a link to Penn Station, a transit hub also served by MARC and Amtrak trains, and the other a 2.7 mile (4.3 km) link that brought trains to the terminal of BWI Airport.
In 1998, the Hamburg Street station opened as an infill station between the existing Westport and Camden Yards stations. Adjacent to M&T Bank Stadium, it was initially only open during Ravens games and other major stadium events; however, as of July 1, 2005, it is open full-time.
To save money, much of the system was built as single-track. While this allowed the Light Rail to be built and opened quickly, it made it difficult to build flexibility into the system: much of the line was restricted to 17-minute headways, with no way to increase headways during peak hours. Federal money was acquired to make the vast majority of the system double-tracked; much of the line south of downtown Baltimore was shut down in 2004 and north of downtown shut down in 2005 in order to complete this project. Much of the northern section reopened in December 2005; the rest opened in February of 2006.
Routing and schedulesEdit
The Baltimore Light Rail network consists of a main north-south line that serves 28 of the system's 33 stops; a spur in Baltimore city that connects a single stop (Penn Station) to the main line; and two branches at the south end of the line that serve two stops apiece. Because of the track arrangement, trains can only enter the Penn Station spur from the mainline heading north and leave it heading south. Various routing strategies have been used on the network; as of February 2006, with the double-tracking work concluded, the routes and headways are as follows:
- Hunt Valley to BWI: 20-minute headways at peak travel times (weekdays from 4 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.), 30-minute headways at all other times
- Timonium to Cromwell/Dorsey Rd.: 20-minute headways at peak, 30-minute headways at all other times
- Penn Station to University of Baltimore/Mt. Royal (a two-stop shuttle): 15 minute headways at all times
Because the majority of the system is covered by the first two routes, most stations see 10-minute peak and 15-minute off-peak headways. Occasional Hunt Valley-Cromwell and Timonium-BWI trips are also built into the schedule; passengers traveling to destinations off the Timonium-Linthicum mainline should check train destination signs before boarding. The full system runs from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays, and from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays, though trains run on the downtown section as early as 4 a.m. on weekdays.
As noted above, a significant portion of the Light Rail follows disused interurban right-of-ways. As a result, many stations are located in areas peripheral to densely populated neighborhoods rather than at the heart of them, which has negatively affected ridership. The Light Rail's route through northern Baltimore mostly parallels the Jones Falls Expressway.
Most of the light rail's route is on a dedicated right-of-way, with occasional grade crossings equipped with crossing gates. However, on the downtown portion of the route that runs along Howard Street (between the University of Baltimore/Mt. Royal and Camden Yards stations), trains mix with automobile traffic, and their movement is governed by traffic signals. Unlike most other light rail systems (though similar to the Green Line in Boston), trains do not preempt the traffic signals: while special light rail preemption software was installed in the City of Baltimore-owned traffic signal controllers along Howard Street when the system opened, its preemption features are not used. This means that trains travel through this section of the line at what can be an interminable crawl. Overall speed from Hunt Valley to BWI (30 miles of track divided by 1hr 20min scheduled time) is about 22 miles per hour.
Fares and transit connectionsEdit
MTA fares are identical for the Metro Subway, the Light Rail, and local buses: a one-way trip costs $1.60. Daily, weekly, and monthly unlimited-ride passes are also available that are good on all three transit modes. A passenger with a one-way ticket can change Light Rail trains if necessary to complete their journey -- the only instance where a one-way MTA ticket is good for a ride on more than one vehicle -- but transferring to a bus or the Metro Subway requires a new one-way fare or a pass. Automated ticket machines that sell tickets and passes are available at all Light Rail stations.
The Light Rail's ticketing is based on a proof-of-payment system, similar to that used in mass transit in Berlin. Passengers must have a ticket or pass before boarding. Maryland Transit Administration Police officers ride some trains and spot-check passengers to make sure that they are carrying a valid ticket or pass, and can issue criminal citations for those without one. Civilian Fare Inspectors also conduct ticket checks alighting those without fare.
Most Light Rail stations are served by several MTA bus routes, and passengers can make platform-to-platform transfers to the MARC Camden Line at Camden Yards and to the MARC Penn Line at Penn Station. There is no direct connection to the Metro Subway -- a fact that may strike the passenger as a distinct oversight in planning. The Metro Subway's Lexington Market Station is a 200-foot walk from the Light Rail stop of the same name.
Baltimore's Light Rail vehicles (LRVs) were built by ABB Traction, the U.S. division of Asea Brown Boveri. The initial set was delivered in 1990 as the line was being built; a supplemental order of essentially identical cars was delivered in 1997 when the extensions came into service.
Baltimore LRVs are quite large -- much larger than traditional streetcars and bigger even than those used on San Francisco's Muni Metro or Boston's Green Line. Cars are 95 feet (29 m) long and 9.5 feet (2.9 m) wide, and can accommodate 85 seated and 91 standing passengers. Despite their size these cars still operate on standard (4 feet, 8.5 inches) gauge track. 1-, 2- and 3-car trains are all routinely seen in service. Trains are powered by an overhead pantograph and have a maximum speed of 60 miles per hour (97 km/h).
The MTA currently own 53 individual Light Rail cars. During typical weekday peak time service, approximately 30 to 35 cars are required; a somewhat higher number of cars are put into service immediately after Orioles and Ravens games. The MTA also owns a variety of maintenance of way equipment as well as diesel power for emergencies.
Several industry spurs are accessible through light rail trackage only, so freight is shunted during off hours.
- The light rail has many stops along its route. This allows access from a wide range of areas, but it also slows the speed of the system.
- The stations are not evenly spaced. While some areas have multiple stations all within a close walk of one another, other segments have no stops for several miles.
- There are only minimal amounts of parking available at stations. Many stations in residential neighborhoods have fewer than 100 parking spaces, which on a typical weekday, are filled early. Other stations have no parking at all.
- In Anne Arundel County, bus service connecting to most stops is minimal. This limits the use of the line by commuters to jobs in the county.
- There is no direct link to the subway, requiring paying fare twice (as with other intermodal transfers in the MTA system) and walking above ground to accomplish intermodal trips. This has been mitigated with the unification of ticketing systems over bus, light rail, and subway systems (on-going) -- A day pass can be bought which allows access to all three.
- While operating on downtown streets, trains must stop at red lights (although trains use their own set of signals), which also reduces overall speed.
Many of these factors negatively affect ridership, and comparing ridership numbers to that of similar systems, the Baltimore Light Rail system does not boast high cost efficiency, though it is hoped that future expansion of the light rail system will boost utility and passenger use.
Travel on the Light Rail was significantly disrupted in 2004 and 2005 when large portions of the system were shut down to accommodate double-tracking work. In the immediate future, the MTA's goals are to recapture ridership lost during this period and to woo new riders with the improved service that is now possible on the double-tracked system.
There are no immediate plans to add track length to the current Light Rail system. An independent commission on Baltimore-area transit made a number of suggestions in a 2002 report for new lines and expansions of existing lines. One proposal was to create a branch of the Light Rail system that would head southeast from the main line at Timonium, run through Towson and Baltimore, and reconnect to the existing line at Camden Yards. However, this proposal is not being actively pursued at present. There is the possibility of adding an infill station at Texas, between the existing Timonium and Warren Road stations. A set of platforms was built at this point on the line in conjunction with the 2005 double-tracking work to provide a turnback point for trains not going all the way to Hunt Valley; it would be relatively simple to convert this into a revenue station, and reports indicate that the MTA is considering doing so.
One line from the 2002 report that is being considered is the so-called Red Line, an east-west line that would intersect with the existing Light Rail downtown. If the Red Line were to be built as a light rail line, it might be integrated with the existing network; however, the mode -- and even the existence -- for this proposed line is still up in the air. The report also includes somewhat immediate plans to extend the existing subway line northwest beyond Hopkins Hospital, creating an extended version of what will be called the Green line.
There have been numerous recommendations to fix the Howard Street situation by allowing the trains to preempt traffic lights, to place the light rail in a trench with sidewalks or roads cantilevered over top, or to simply remove all vehicular traffic from Howard street (which has no on street parking, or garages which require access to the street). However, at the moment there are no concrete plans to do so.