Passengers trying out the new 3.2-mile southern extension of the Baltimore-area light-rail line yesterday praised the trolley system's "wonderful" ride and a "beautiful" view along the way.
Curiosity seekers, families and State Fair goers were among the patrons on the first day of scheduled operations on the line from Brooklyn to Oriole Park at Camden Yards and points north.
"We're seeing a lot of people going to the Maryland State Fair or trying [the light rail] out before Monday to see how it works," said Beth Robinson, an MTA customer-community relations officer.
She was at the new Patapsco Avenue station in the Brooklyn area, where, she observed: "We've had a very good turnout." An exact tally of the number of passengers was not available yesterday.
The trains will run regularly south from Camden Yards to Westport, Cherry Hill and Patapsco Avenue, bringing the light-rail system to poorer, blue-collar neighborhoods at the city's southern end. The system's initial leg begins in suburban Timonium and runs south, through North Baltimore, to Camden Yards.
MTA officials expect those southern neighborhoods to produce more light-rail customers for the fledgling system than more affluent areas north of the city.
Curiosity prompted Winifred Johnson and her sister, Mary Elizabeth Johnson, to pick up the light rail early yesterday afternoon at Patapsco Avenue, where about two to three dozen other passengers also boarded.
"We don't know how far we're going yet," confided Ms. Johnson, a retired clerk for CSX. "But we will be using the light rail to go to town [after today]. It would be wonderful to take to the fair."
As the light-rail train moved northward, the Linthicum residents remarked about the beauty of wooded areas between Patapsco Avenue and industrialized Westport. Even there, the Westport station afforded a panoramic view of Baltimore's skyline.
"This is beautiful," Ms. Johnson said.
The real thrill of the ride was yet to come. A breathtaking view of Camden Yards and downtown unfolds for northbound riders as the light rail crosses a 4,200-foot-long bridge over the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River.
That portion of the ride left a lasting impact on Peggy Baumgartner of Towson.
"That was wonderful," said Ms. Baumgartner, who along with her sister, Suzanne Baumgartner, had picked up the light rail in Lutherville for a round trip to Patapsco Avenue.
"We just wanted to see what the ride was like," said Peggy Baumgartner, a city teacher who regularly rides light rail to Orioles games.
The Baumgartners each paid $2.20 for a regular round-trip fare. Reduced fares are available for senior citizens, people with disabilities and students with MTA reduced fare identification cards.
Suhair Alkhatib, an MTA scheduling manager who handed out informational brochures at Patapsco Avenue, said most people appeared pleased with the ride south from Camden Yards.
"People seem to be real happy with the ride," Mr. Alkhatib said. "We've had a good turnout. Some people are taking the light rail to the State Fair. Others are just taking a ride with their kids."
The opening of the new line has affected some bus routes. During hours of light-rail operation, some bus passengers on routes 14, 17 and 22 will have to transfer to the new service to reach downtown and other points. (See box for more information.)
The light rail's initial 14-mile segment from Timonium to Camden Yards began full service May 17. Since then, the system has averaged about 5,000 passengers a day -- a number well below the 33,000 daily riders expected when the $446.3 million, 29.5-mile electric trolley system is completed in 1995.
New rail service
The newest leg of Baltimore's light-rail service will be operating this morning, linking Brooklyn and parts of South Baltimore with downtown. Here's the new service at a glance:
New stations: Westport, Cherry Hill and Patapsco Avenue.
Hours: 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays; and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays.
Schedules: Trains depart every 15 minutes.
Connecting buses: Three bus routes are altered to carry riders to one of the system's three new stops.
* No. 14 -- Northbound buses will go only to the new Patapsco Avenue light-rail stop, just east of Annapolis Road. Downtown and State Center passengers must transfer to light rail.
Southbound buses will travel between the Patapsco Avenue stop and the Jumpers Hole or Annapolis terminus. During early morning hours on weekdays and weekends when light rail is not operating, buses will travel to State Center.
* No. 17 -- Northbound buses will go only as far as the Patapsco Avenue light-rail stop. Passengers must transfer to light rail to continue downtown.
Southbound buses will travel between the light-rail stop and the Lake Shore terminus. When trains are not running, buses will travel to Eutaw and Monument streets.
* No. 22 -- Westbound buses on the Brooklyn branch will travel only as far as the Patapsco Avenue light-rail stop.
Eastbound buses to Brooklyn will travel between the Patapsco Avenue stop and Highlandtown.