Baltimore's light-rail system takes a step forward today as a 3.2-mile extension is added to the 14-mile stretch opened in the spring. When the full 29.5-mile electric trolley system is completed in 1995, passengers will be able to take the train from Baltimore-Washington International Airport all the way to Hunt Valley.
But Baltimoreans don't have to wait for another two years. For those who have not yet tested light rail, this week provides a splendid opportunity to ride this modern streetcar with a purpose. Its northern terminus happens to be right at the gate of the fairgrounds in Timonium, where the Maryland State Fair is in full swing. With the expansion, the southernmost terminus moves to near the Anne Arundel County line.
About 5,000 passengers a day have used the light rail since its opening a little more than three months ago. Additionally, between 3,000 and 4,000 fans have taken the streetcars to the new Camden Yards ballpark on Orioles baseball game nights, Mass Transit Administration officials say. They project 33,000 riders will patronize the system every day once the line is completed in 1995.
As three new stations -- Westport, Cherry Hill and Patapsco Avenue -- are added to the system, ridership is likely to increase considerably. The populous blue-collar areas the extension serves have always relied heavily on public transport and the light rail will bring downtown Baltimore within seven minutes of those communities.
Future expansion of the line to such population centers as Linthicum and Glen Burnie similarly promises to add to the viability of the system, which currently runs from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. Unlike some Baltimore County communities, which actively fought the light-rail line with lawsuits and other challenges, Anne Arundel County residents have welcomed the promised arrival of mass transit to their neighborhoods. Also, stations along the southern extension generally have far more parking than the northern portion of the system.
Despite many early critics and doubters, Baltimore's new light-rail line has been a success. The southward expansion should further increase its credibility.