Welcome aboard, Baltimore.
Today is the first day of regular service on the initial 13-mile segment of the Central Light Rail Line, the $446.3 million electric trolley system that will eventually link the city with Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties.
The rails and overhead electric wires between Timonium and Camden Yards have been checked and rechecked. The cars have been test driven by 65,000 Orioles fans. The tires have been kicked -- although with steel wheels it probably smarted -- and Mass Transit Administration (MTA) officials have pronounced it ready.
"We're ready to roll. We're more than ready," said MTA Administrator Ronald J. Hartman. "You can't imagine what it's like for people who have been with the project since the beginning to see this day come."
Now comes the hard part, of course. Commuters have to figure out how to use it.
During the limited light-rail service to and from Orioles games, MTA officials have noticed that the system attracts patrons, typically suburbanites, who are unfamiliar with public transit. They included one man who tried to buy four tickets in Timonium with a $100 bill.
So in the interest of avoiding such confusion, here is a primer on Baltimore's newest form of mass transit.
There are 15 station stops on the first segment, beginning with Timonium to the north and ending with Camden Yards in the south. The route follows the Jones Falls corridor along the former Northern Central railroad tracks into town, where it aligns with Howard Street.
Later this summer, a 3.2-mile extension south to Patapsco Avenue will open. Next year, the system expands 5.6 miles farther to its southern terminus, Glen Burnie, for a total length of 22.5 miles and 24 stops. Eventually, the MTA plans to add connections to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Pennsylvania Station and Hunt Valley.
Beginning today, light rail will operate from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays and 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Special service for Orioles' home games will continue.
Parking is free and available at four stops in the first 13-mile section: Timonium, 850 spaces; Lutherville, 160 spaces; Falls Road, 75 spaces; and Mount Washington, 75 spaces.
Trains run every 15 minutes. The fare is $1.10 one way, no matter the distance. It's a self-service, proof-of-payment system, which means that transit police officers will periodically check passengers to see if they have tickets. Those without tickets face a fine of up to $500.
Tickets are stamped with a time and date. A one-way ticket is good for up to 90 minutes in a single direction away from the stop at which it was purchased.
For an extra 10 cents, customers can buy a transfer good for a continued trip on a bus or the Metro and valid up to 90 minutes from the time of purchase.
Like one-way tickets, round-trip tickets are valid for up to 90 minutes in one direction away from the stop where the ticket was purchased. But the round-trip tickets are valid until midnight when traveling back to the original stop.
Reduced fares are offered for senior citizens, people with disabilities, and students, all of whom may be asked to produce a valid MTA reduced-fare identification card.
Ticketing machines will accept nickels, dimes, quarters, Susan B. Anthony dollar coins, MTA adult and student tokens and $1 and $5 bills. Passengers cannot purchase fares on the train.
To board a light-rail train, passengers should wait until the train comes to a complete stop and then press the "Open Door" button near the door.
Trains always stop with their first set of doors at a wheelchair block. People with disabilities may board at those ramps. The train operator must be summoned to assist disabled people boarding or leaving the train.
When the train approaches your destination, you should press the yellow strip near the window to alert the operator that you want to get off at the next stop. Stops are announced in advance.
To leave the train, passengers must press the green button on the yellow box located at each door.
Each light-rail stop is equipped with an MTA system map, a map of the neighborhood, schedules and a telephone. For more information at station phones, customers can just touch *-7 (Star Seven). People dialing from elsewhere can reach the MTA at 539-5000.