Sleep-deprived Linthicum residents are begging the Mass Transit Administration to keep freight cars off its light rail tracks at night.
"I haven't had any sleep literally in three weeks," said Theresa Proserpi of Shipley Court. "It's really terrible. It's enough to wake the dead."
During a Linthicum-Shipley Improvement Association meeting Wednesday night, Ms. Proserpi and about three dozen of her neighbors complained that since light rail service started in April, noisy freight trains have been forced to run at night, keeping them awake.
"We're talking sleep deprivation here," said Patricia Akin, who said the trains come through between midnight and 4:30 a.m. "It's affecting our lives. It's affecting our jobs."
The trains, run by the Canton Railroad Co., used to make deliveries to Quebecor Printing Inc. off Baltimore-Annapolis Road during the day. But MTA officials said they can't coordinate light rail and freight trains at the same time. Passenger service during the day means freight service must continue at night, they said.
That response didn't sit well with some residents living near the tracks, who said they were never forewarned that the freight trains would be so noisy or come through as often as they do.
"MTA said, 'Quiet, quiet. The trains are quiet.' And you shoved it down everyone's throats," shouted Linthicum resident Bill Faley. "It wasn't a freight line sold to us. It was light rail."
Ms. Proserpi asked to play a tape she made from her bedroom window about 2:30 a.m. a week ago. Turning on a boombox set up in the front of the room, she assured MTA officials she wasn't pumping up the volume to make her point.
"You can come over to my house any night and monitor," she said. "It is this loud."
For the next five minutes, the crowd heard screeching and squealing, tooting and dinging, banging and buzzing so loud it could have awakened Rip Van Winkle.
"This is what I have to listen to every night," Ms. Proserpi said. "Just when you fall asleep, you have to listen to it a second time as it comes back. My kids are falling asleep at school."
MTA officials acknowledged the freight trains are noisy and promised to take action.
"We are very concerned about this issue and are doing whatever we can," said Jim Buckley, assistant general manager of operations.
Mr. Buckley said the MTA already has worked with the Canton Railroad to keep horn blasts shorter. And by mid-June, when the MTA installs gates at all street crossings, the nighttime horn blasts may stop altogether, he said. The MTA is also working with engineers to minimize squealing caused by trains rounding curves. Although the racket can be reduced, the trains will continue to make some sounds, he said. And neighbors may just have to get used to it.
Mr. Buckley said it is not possible to run freight trains during the day because it would interrupt passenger service for about two hours. Another option suggested by residents -- letting Quebecor get deliveries by truck -- was also rejected.
Although the company received shipments of paper by truck for 18 months while the MTA worked on the tracks, it cost Quebecor $10,000 extra per month, said Steven Weisel, the company's industrial relations manager. During the construction phase, the MTA agreed to cover that added cost, he said. But now that the tracks are open, the company would have to absorb it.
"That expense would seriously jeopardize our operation," said Mr. Weisel, adding that the printing company employs about 230 people. "We just can't afford to do it."