Streetcars are back!


When streetcars started running in Baltimore in 1859, everyone was allowed to ride free during the trial runs. Befittingly, free rides are being offered at selected locations in advance of Sunday's opening of the 13-mile light-rail route from Timonium to Camden Station. Meanwhile, about 65,000 fare-paying Baltimoreans have used the modern streetcars during limited service to and from Oriole baseball games.

These workouts of the $446.3-million system have been useful. They have allowed Mass Transit Administration officials to test the route in realistic -- and overcrowded -- conditions. "The stadium service is the best thing that happened to us," says MTA Administrator Ronald J. Hartman. "We learned a lot. You can do all the simulations in the world but you need live, breathing people."

As a result, computerized ticket machines have been speeded up. Another lesson learned is that the trip downtown from Timonium is likely to take somewhat longer than the anticipated 35 minutes. The reason is the lack of double tracking in many sections of the route. To avoid collisions, northbound trains have to wait for southbound trains to clear the tracks and vice versa.

Single tracks were used to save $20 million in the system's construction costs. If it ends up causing substantial delays and decreases the line's ridership, the savings may not only have been illusory but a costly mistake.

Another mistake, also done for cost-saving reasons, is inadequate parking at most stations. Such stops as Cold Spring Lane and North Avenue have no parking at all, while Mount Washington and Falls Road each have only 75 spaces. MTA is rerouting a number of bus lines to service those stations but most Baltimoreans want to use their cars at least part of the way.

Light rail will run from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays. We urge our readers to take a ride. It gives a passenger a totally new perspective of the Jones Falls Valley and offers a magnificent view of the Robert E. Lee Park around Lake Roland.

Like so many other new things, light rail may take some time to get accustomed to. Baltimore, after all, has been without streetcars for close to three decades. But if they are willing to try it, we are sure a large number of Baltimoreans will find the Central Light Rail Line a convenient alternative to the congested Jones Falls Expressway.

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