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MTA project reaches milestone with arrival of first light-rail car


Despite two brushes with the police, Baltimore's first light-rail car arrived yesterday.

The $1.6 million car left its Elmira, N.Y., assembly plant about 5:30 a.m. Tuesday on an extra-long trailer and was almost immediately stopped for a check by local police. It later got stuck for two hours trying to make a turn, and then spent the night under the guard of New York state troopers because the permit to transport it had expired, said John von Briesen, the Mass Transit Administration's light-rail project manager.

The steel-wheeled white car with a blue stripe came to rest about noon yesterday at Park Heights Avenue and Seven Mile Lane, where MTA officials gawked at it in the blazing sun. It was due to reach the MTA's North Avenue yard last night once city rush-hour traffic cleared.

"It's sort of like having a baby, except not exactly," said Ronald J. Hartman, mass transit administrator, of the car's arrival. "It's nice to see it here. It represents a real milestone."

The first of 35 cars for the $446 million Baltimore area light-rail system is a big baby -- 95 feet long, 9 1/2 feet wide and 12 1/2 feet high, with four doors on each side. It has seats for 84 passengers and can transport more than 200 in a pinch. Up to three cars can be coupled to form a train.

The new car will be tested over the next few weeks on 1 3/4 miles of track between North and Union avenues, Mr. von Briesen said. The car underwent some testing at the Elmira plant of its manufacturer, ABB Traction Inc. -- it arrived with 107 miles on the odometer -- but MTA technicians will push it to its 50 mph top speed, he said.

Light-rail service between Timonium and Camden Station is expected to begin in time for the Orioles' April 1992 opening day at the new Camden Yards ballpark, Mr. von Briesen said. But he said holiday shoppers will see test cars shuttling along Howard Street in December.

The new, air-conditioned car -- which wasn't open for inspection yesterday -- has cloth seats on a metal frame, and it is hinged in the middle for better handling on tight turns. It will be powered by electricity from overhead wires.

The car's manufacturer is a Swedish-Swiss consortium. The unfinished car body was made in Denmark and shipped through the port of Baltimore to Elmira, where ABB set up a plant to comply with requirements that the cars be assembled in the United States, Mr. Hartman said. Maryland subcontractors supplied some components.

The 27.5-mile light-rail system is projected to carry 33,000 passengers daily by 1995. It will link Glen Burnie and Hunt Valley with downtown Baltimore, with spurs to Penn Station and Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

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