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PLENTY OF ROOM TO STRETCH Light rail riders few but enthusiastic


Baltimore's new light rail attracted more baseball fans than commuters on its first business day.

Only about 1,500 people rode the light rail between Timonium and Camden Yards during yesterday's morning rush hour -- about half the number who rode the rails to last night's baseball game at Oriole Park, state Mass Transit Administration officials said.

But the low turnout came as no great surprise.

The officials had predicted small crowds for the first several weeks of service as commuters adjust to the new $446.3 million Central Light Rail Line.

The low volume left most station parking lots only half-full and most passengers with plenty of room to stretch out inside the trains.

"I don't think ridership was light, it was steady," said Dianna Rosborough, an MTA spokeswoman. "There were certainly no problems with anything," she said.

Technically, yesterday was not light rail's inaugural run. The system's initial 13-mile segment between Timonium and the new downtown ballpark began regular service Sunday. The MTA also has provided special light rail services for Orioles home games since Opening Day, and carried about 3,200 fans to the new downtown ballpark last night.

But yesterday was the first time weekday commuters got a chance to ride to work.

"I think I'll be using it every day," said Kelly Sjolander, of Jarrettsville, who caught a light-rail train from Timonium to a downtown law firm where she is an intern. "Parking downtown is expensive, and I can avoid traffic," she said.

Kathleeen Schaeffer of Hunt Valley said the trolley was her first experience taking any form of mass transit to work at a downtown investment banking firm. She has always driven to work and paid $9 a day to park.

"If this works out, I'll take this every day," said Ms. Schaeffer.

Transit workers were posted at most stations, explaining schedules and how to use fare machines. Some MTA employees even exchanged $1 bills with customers when the fare machines refused them.

The Rev. Jack Ward just missed boarding an early train from the Falls Road station and had to wait 15 minutes for the next one. Despite the setback, he said he was favorably impressed with the system.

"I think it's going to catch on," said Father Ward, who was headed for the Catholic Center downtown.

Robert Letts of North East, 66, a retired Amtrak worker, boarded the 8:30 a.m. train in Timonium without any particular destination in mind.

A self-described rail fanatic, he just wanted to experience the light rail system in the daytime.

"I like it," he said. "They should have built it four years ago."

Not all the commuters were as pleased. Beginning yesterday, the MTA suspended service on its No. 18 express bus, which previously took an average of 300 riders each day from Hunt Valley and Timonium directly downtown.

Former express bus riders complained that the light rail will take longer and drop them off at less convenient locations. The No. 18 now serves as a feeder bus between Hunt Valley to the Timonium light-rail station.

"I'm not real happy about it," said a Timonium resident who commutes to a downtown law practice but asked not to be identified.

"I don't mind taking the light rail but it just doesn't come near the office."

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