The $446 million Central Light Rail Line's first steel rails were tamped into place over the weekend near the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium during a 40-hour marathon work session.
"We wanted the work to go as quickly as possible here. It could have taken nine weeks if we hadn't compressed the work into one weekend," said MTA General Manager Ronald Hartman. He added that drivers had complained the old freight rails and approaches to the grade crossing were "killing our cars." Signs went up to announce the weekend closing weeks ago.
There was no public ceremony to accompany the track-laying despite Gov. William Donald Schaefer's highly publicized backing of the project. The line is to pass through affluent parts of Baltimore County and the city and serve the Orioles' new stadium, which is under construction in the Camden Yards area.
Construction workers put a 75-foot section of trackage, the initial part of what is planned as a 27.5-mile rail system stretching from Hunt Valley to Ferndale, into place early yesterday at the Timonium Road grade crossing near the south entrance to the fairgrounds.
The crossing, closed to weekend auto traffic, was re-opened to motor vehicles this morning.
"The job went through smoothly and we were finished early," said Gary Gribble, project engineer for the line's general contractor, Dick Enterprises of Pittsburgh. The grade crossing is between Interstate 83 and York Road and also is adjacent to Chi-Chi's Mexican Restaurant.
Construction workers labored continuously from 8 p.m. Friday through yesterday to rip out the old rail, prepare a new base, lay three sets of tracks, then pave the section with fresh asphalt.
The new light-rail line is to run along what had been the old Northern Central Railroad, which once stretched through Central Maryland from Baltimore to Harrisburg, Pa., and points north. The system is scheduled for completion in 1992.
Longer sections of track, about 1,000 feet of continuously welded rail, are to begin being laid early this month north of the 28th Street Bridge near Druid Hill Park. The concrete ties are already in place.
"The track-laying doesn't take too long," Gribble said. "The underground utility work, the subsurface preparation, takes longer."
"I saw a lot of my neighbors here over the weekend," said Vernon Lentz, a resident of the Pine Valley section of Timonium, who was among the onlookers the job attracted. "People would just sort of walk up and look around."
On Saturday, the MTA set up displays of the light-rail line at a parking lot off Timonium Road.
There are three separate sections of track at the Timonium Road grade crossing -- a northbound track, a southbound track and a switch track used for making bulk deliveries to SACO Supply, a building-supply firm with a warehouse on Timonium Road. The Central Light Rail Line is to be used by the MTA's electric passenger cars and by CONRAIL freight trains. On the south end of the light-rail system, the trains are to use the Baltimore & Annapolis Railroad right of way.
Gribble said about 60 workers used floodlights to see so they could work through Friday and Saturday night. The rail-laying job was completed about 4 a.m. yesterday and fresh asphalt poured at 6 a.m. The asphalt was flattened and cooled until this morning, when autos were allowed to travel on it.