Riders said they were grateful to be back on the Metro after a nearly one-month shutdown for emergency track repairs that officials said couldn’t wait until the summer.
For the past few weeks, it has taken Joyce Ingram more than an hour to get from her Park Heights neighborhood to her job as a home aide in Owings Mills.
But Friday, with the reopening of the Baltimore MetroLink Subway system, her morning commute returned to a quick 20 minutes.
“I’ve got 40 minutes back this morning,” said Ingram, 62, as she waited to catch the train at Mondawmin around 8:30 a.m.
Riders said they were grateful to be back on the Metro after a nearly one-month shutdown for emergency track repairs that officials said couldn’t wait until the summer. The surprise shutdown came with less than a day’s notice on Feb. 11, after safety evaluations showed some track sections were too worn to safely operate trains on them.
The Maryland Transit Administration did not have an estimate of how many riders took the subway on Friday, said Veronica Battisti, senior director of communications and marketing. About 17,000 people ride the Metro on a typical weekday.
Battisti said the MTA had “transit ambassadors” at some stops in case people didn’t know the subway was operating again and that they no longer had to take the temporary shuttles.
The MTA is providing free rides Friday through Sunday “as a thank you to our riders for their patience.”
“By all accounts, it went very, very well,” she said. “People were very happy… and thankful for the free rides and extra assistance.”
The reopening comes three days earlier than officials anticipated. An estimate for the cost of repairs was not yet available. The news was announced Thursday as the the state House of Delegates approved legislation to increase funding for the MTA, both for operations and capital improvements.
“We replaced all the rail that the train runs on, in all the curves that were showing wear,” MTA Administrator Kevin Quinn said Thursday. “We’ve done thorough safety testing, and we can assure folks that it is safe. Folks can expect a smoother, faster ride.”
And while many were happy to be riding the Metro Friday, some said they remained bitter about the way the shutdown was handled.
“I understand it was for safety, but it was really abrupt and an inconvenience to a lot of people,” said Mikita Thompson, 34. “I think we deserve more than two days of free rides for the long time we had to go.”
MTA spokesman Paul Shepard said the agency does not know how much the shutdown cost in terms of lost revenue, nor how much money will be lost by providing free rides.
Gov. Larry Hogan set aside $2.2 million in emergency funding to run free buses for passengers during the shutdown. But some of the thousands of people who rely on the Metro system said the shuttles were unreliable and doubled the time of their daily commutes.
Tina Hebron said it often took her two hours to get from West Baltimore to downtown. The inconsistent transportation made her frequently late to her job at the Pratt Library.
“Oh, wow I’m so glad the Metro is back,” said Hebron, 48. “It’ll make my day so wonderful and smooth and I’ll actually get to work on time.”
Richard Clinch, director of the Jacob France Institute at the University of Baltimore’s business school and an expert in economic impact analysis, said reliable transportation is vital for a strong workforce.
“It effects everybody,” he said. “When employees are stressed about the way they get to work for a month, they’re going to lose leisure time. The employer loses productively and everybody is worse off.”
Some sections of track will still need to be replaced in August, though the MTA hopes to do those repairs over the weekends and by single-tracking to avoid another shutdown.
Quinn said no new issues arose during the most recent track inspections. The MTA, Federal Transit Administration and federal State Safety Oversight program inspectors walked the tracks and studied the system before opting to reopen.