Next stop ... well, it's not here

The Baltimore Sun

Commercials for Amtrak's Acela ask, "What's your destination?" The answer better not be Baltimore.

Late last month, without fanfare, Amtrak began running two Acela Express trains that bypass Baltimore, snubbing the city that was home to the nation's first railroad line in 1830. The new express trains run between New York and Washington with only one stop - in Philadelphia.

This is just what Baltimore needs: In a sweltering summer, with the homicide numbers climbing with the mercury, Amtrak has made it a little harder to get out of town. The railroad seems to be telling Baltimore that we don't quite rate.

What other cities are getting bypassed on this new route? Wilmington. Trenton. Newark. Yup, that's the company Amtrak puts us in.

Railroad officials says it's not their fault. "It was basically customer demand," said Amtrak spokeswoman Karina Romero. By skipping Baltimore, Acela trains save 10 minutes on the New York-to-Washington run. "To some people, that makes a difference," Romero said.

She points out that the majority of Amtrak trains still stop in Baltimore (including more than a dozen Acelas), and it's just two Acela trains daily (one heading north, one south) that zip by without stopping. But civic leaders say Baltimore is a major East Coast city that deserves better.

"I have visions of Baltimoreans standing on the rail platform waving sadly as the train goes by," said Anthony McCarthy, spokesman for Mayor Sheila Dixon. He said the trains could at least slow down while passing through to give Baltimore passengers a sporting chance at jumping on.

"The city's official position is we would hope that Amtrak would reconsider and show Baltimore some love," McCarthy said.

On Friday at Baltimore's Pennsylvania Station, the eighth-busiest rail station in the country, train passengers were dismayed to learn of this latest humiliation.

"It kind of makes it seem like we're not worthy - like we're not big-time," said Diana Long of Hunt Valley, who takes the Acela to New York once a week.

Even out-of-towners had sympathy for underdog Baltimore. Jack and Peg Duffin, arriving on an Acela from Boston, were in town to celebrate their 50th anniversary by seeing the Orioles play the Red Sox.

"They gotta show you some respect!" Jack Duffin said of Amtrak's decision. "It's a large city. There's no reason to skip it."

New York's Pennsylvania Station and Washington's Union Station are the two busiest stations in the country. But Frank M. Conaway Sr., clerk of Baltimore's Circuit Court and a Democratic mayoral candidate, said the city's "not a small town or something" and the 10-minute savings doesn't merit the snub.

"Aw, that's ridiculous. Ridiculous!" he said. "I think Baltimore people should protest, begin to inundate Amtrak with letters and telephone calls."

Maybe even organize a picket at Amtrak headquarters in Washington. We'll take the bus.

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