The northwest leg of Baltimore’s Metro SubwayLink system will remain closed for several weeks after inspectors determined that the tracks need emergency repairs, the Maryland Department of Transportation said Friday.
The entire system had already been closed for at least the weekend because track work needed to be done right away.
Maryland Transit Administration chief Kevin Quinn said closings on the underground section between Johns Hopkins Hospital and Mondawmin Mall could be extended if inspectors find problems similar to those that have shut down the aboveground stations. Trains emerge from underground just north of Mondawmin and continue on an elevated line to Owings Mills.
Quinn said officials are inspecting the underground tracks and should know Saturday whether they will be have to remain closed beyond the weekend. The MTA expects to make an announcement Sunday.
“Safety is our complete priority, and we are not going to take any risks with our passengers,” Quinn told The Baltimore Sun.
Quinn said he could not be any more specific than several weeks of shutdown for the aboveground stretch of tracks.
“We’ve got a 36-year-old system that’s exposed to the elements day in and day out,” he said. “It was just wear and tear on the line. There was no incident that precipitated this.”
Quinn said inspectors were examining the tracks in preparation for work the MTA expected to do this summer when they found problems that couldn’t wait.
On past occasions when the MTA has been forced to shut down rail lines, it has offered a “bus bridge” roughly tracking the route of the tracks as an alternative for commuters. But Quinn said the MTA hasn’t been able to get one up and running, though it will look into doing so. Until then, the agency is urging riders to go to mta.maryland.gov or facebook.com/mtamaryland or call 410-539-5000 for updates and alternate transportation options.
:Late Friday morning, people were still attempting to walk down the Lexington Market subway station’s escalator before others alerted them that the subway was closed.
“This is beyond ridiculous. People don’t even know yet, because people don’t watch the news,” said Edward Marshall, 49, of Walbrook, who was sitting on a nearby bench. Marshall, who relies on the subway to commute to his job at John Hopkins Hospital, found out about the closure on a Facebook page.
“This is a real inconvenience. You got hardworking people trying to get back and forth to work,” Marshall said. “I've been here 30 minutes waiting for a bus, and every bus that came is packed.”
Marshall complained that the Metro is “the worst subway system on the East Coast.”
“Every week, they're single-tracking,” he said.
Because of its limited reach, many Baltimoreans seldom or never use the 15.5-mile-long Metro. Nevertheless, it is an important part of the city’s transportation system, with 14 stations and a ridership of more than 40,000 on a typical weekday. While it is called a subway, much of the line runs on elevated tracks.
SubwayLink, as it was rebranded by the Hogan administration, is a single-line heavy rail system that serves Baltimore’s northwest corridor and downtown before extending to Johns Hopkins Hospital. Conceived in the 1960s, it was originally envisioned as one part of a six-line system serving the entire metropolitan region. But the money and political will ran out, and no other lines were built.
The first phase of the Metro, running 7.6 miles from downtown to Reisterstown Road Plaza, opened in 1983. A second, 6.1-mile phase extended the line to what was then the Owings Mills Mall in 1997. The final phase to be completed took the line to Hopkins Hospital in 1995. Its total cost after completion of that phase was $1.4 billion.
Plans have been discussed to extend the subway to Morgan State University and other places to the northeast as part of what has been called the Green Line. However, those proposals have gained little traction in recent years.
The subway line’s usefulness has been hampered by the lack of a direct connection to the MARC commuter train service. It connects to the city’s light rail at Lexington Market, but not in convenient way.
While Baltimore's light rail system it debuted alongside the successful Oriole Park at Camden yards in 1992, the 25-year-old rail line's envisioned role as a transit solution for Baltimore has gone largely unfulfilled. While crowded around game times and somewhat busy at rush hour, light rail's ridership remains below projections, and the north-south line did not become part of a larger integrated transit system.
In 2016 the system closed for 23 days between the Milford Mill and Mondawmin stations for what the MTA called "critical maintenance work."
Quinn said there are no signs that past neglect caused the current problems.
The MTA chief said about 17,000 people board the lines each weekday and about 8,000 each on Saturdays and Sundays. He said ridership on the line has declined in recent years, but attributed that to increased ride-sharing and low gas prices.