After a 28-year absence, streetcars in a newer, longer configuration will be making daily runs in Baltimore beginning tomorrow. For more than a month, the 13-mile light-rail route from Timonium to Camden Station has been in limited operation during Oriole baseball games. Some 65,000 patrons have tried it out.
Now begins the real test of the $446.3-million system. The secret of a successful mass transit line is quite simple. Passengers will use it if it is accessible, punctual and economical.
The first trials of this light rail have been an overwhelming success. Overwhelming because so many baseball fans have used it -- to avoid traffic and parking headaches -- that buses have been needed to supplant regular trains. As a result of overcrowding, the speed of computerized ticket machines has been accelerated.
A number of other lessons have been learned during these baseball runs. Chief among them is the realization that the Timonium-to-downtown trip takes somewhat longer than the anticipated 35 minutes. That is due to the lack of double tracking along much of the route. Northbound trains must sometimes wait for southbound trains to pass and vice versa. Because of single-tracking, even peak-hour trains have to be kept 15 minutes apart.
The state used single tracks in order to save $20 million. If it ends up causing substantial time delays, it will could lead to a decline in ridership. What a tragedy that would be.
Another mistake already apparent is the absence of adequate parking spaces along the line (except at Timonium). Parking lots were cut also to keep the costs down. Such crucial stops as Cold Spring Lane and North Avenue have no parking at all, while Mount Washington and Falls Road each have only 75 spaces. The Mass Transit Administration is trying to alleviate this problem by redesigning the routes of seven existing bus lines. At best, however, that can be only a partial answer.
The operating schedule, starting tomorrow, is as follows: Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. For special events, whether they are downtown or at the Timonium Fairgrounds, it will be a convenient form of transportation. Whether it will be as handy for daily work commutes depends mostly on its punctuality. The early days of light rail will give a good idea; however, a more definitive verdict must wait until the route is extended south to Patapsco Avenue (August) and Glen Burnie (first half of 1993).
We welcome the new light rail line as an exciting and relaxing alternative mode of transportation. Thank goodness, the trolley xTC has returned!