ANYONE DRIVING the Jones Falls Expressway into downtown Baltimore can spot construction work already under way to connect the Central Light Rail Line with Penn Station. That's just one visible sign of efforts to create a rail system big enough to reach its considerable potential.
Now the state has approved a $53.7 million order for 18 light-rail cars that will operate along this shuttle route and extensions to Hunt Valley and BWI Airport set to open in 1997. When these three additions are up and running, daily ridership is expected to soar from the present 20,000 passengers to 36,000 by the year 2000 -- an increase of 80 percent.
There's no mystery why these new stops will cause a surge. There are 360 companies and 30,000 employees working in Hunt Valley.Another 30,000 people work near BWI. When the light-rail line reaches the industrial bases of Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County, it will offer easy access to these job sites and a welcome alternative to congested roads.
Just listen to the radio during rush hours. All major roads leading to and from Baltimore are jammed.How much easier it would be to park the car and take a light-rail train.
Baltimore also lacks tie-ins between modes of transportation. Penn Station bustles with Amtrak and MARC commuters throughout the day, but does not have any rail link to downtown. BWI disgorges tens of thousands of air travelers looking for quick access to downtown -- and thousands more looking for a hassle-free way to get to the airport.
Light rail is tailor-made for our cost-conscious, downsizing era. It is cheap to ride, it is safe, it is soothing on the nerves, it is environmentally friendly. And it should ease rush-hour congestion. This is a form of transportation that worked in the distant past, and should work well in the future, too.