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Lucky few get to ride the rails Lighthizer attends MTA preview run


Brad Schneider never expected to find himself riding the rails on a sunny afternoon, gliding smoothly past back yards in North Linthicum, Baltimore Highlands and Westport, crossing the water in clear view of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

When the college student heard that a business group would take the first ride on the state's Central Light Rail line yesterday from North Linthicum to Camden Yards, he and a friend showed up just to shoot photos of the train.

Several minutes later, the Ferndale resident was sitting on board, shaking hands with O. James Lighthizer, state secretary of transportation.

"We weren't expecting to get on board, but they let us," Mr. Schneider said during the 15-minute ride. "I think it's exciting. I can say I was one of the first people to ride from North Linthicum up this way. Riding the rails is 10 times more enjoyable than driving."

Mr. Schneider boarded one of two passenger cars at the Camp Meade Road station along with more than 75 business people, area residents and railroad buffs like Winfield Kehs, 77, of Glen Burnie.

"I'm just a rail fan," said Mr. Kehs, decked out in a B&O; Railroad cap. "It's the first run. I took the first run from North Avenue to Timonium, too."

The Mass Transit Administration offered the preview of Anne Arundel County's light rail at the request of the North Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce.

Service on the southern portion of the state line, with stops at Baltimore Highlands in Baltimore County, Nursery Road, North Linthicum and Linthicum, will begin April 2, mainly for baseball games. Stations in Ferndale and Glen Burnie will open in mid-July.

"This is a very important line to us," said John A. Agro Jr., acting MTA administrator, noting that the old Baltimore & Annapolis Railroad ran the same route before it stopped passenger service in 1950. "Bringing the line into the county represents a new era."

Mr. Lighthizer, a former Anne Arundel County executive, pushed for light rail from Glen Burnie to Baltimore more than a decade ago as a state delegate, but "the Maryland Department of Transportation pooh-poohed it," he recalled. He credited Gov. William Donald Schaefer with making the line a reality.

"There was a time when you could pop on a train and go right to Baltimore," Mr. Lighthizer told the passengers. "This is the mode of transportation we had 50 years ago and now it has come back. We are coming back to our roots, or to our rails.

"This is the future for transportation," he said, urging business people to look on light rail as an economic boon to North County.

Linda Groves, assistant vice president of an Elkridge National Bank branch near Glen Burnie's Cromwell Station on Dorsey Road, said light rail will mean "access for employees to our businesses and increased consumers. Hopefully, people from the city might consider shopping in the suburbs."

Conversely, light rail will encourage county residents to travel to Baltimore more frequently, said Ms. Groves, of Linthicum.

"I don't come downtown a whole lot because of the cost of parking," she said. "This is easier than fighting traffic."

Yesterday's ride brought back memories for Pat Gary, owner of Creative Sign Design in Glen Burnie, who rode the old B&A; trains to school as a 12-year-old. "They were clankety and they bounced, a real old railroad," she recalled. "This is smooth and quiet."

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