Light Rail Planners Envision Ferndale With A Face Lift

March 17, 1991|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Staff writer

The steel rails slice through the woodlands, cutting a path between the trees where only the sound of birds chirping interrupts the quietof a sun-drenched Saturday afternoon.

Watch the world pass by on the other side of a train's windows, and it's clear the people who built and traveled this route a century ago knew something of making the journey itself not only painless, but a genuine pleasure to be savored.

Especially if you consider the modern-day alternatives, the highways clouded with exhaust and jammed with great masses of metal and drivers muttering things you can't print in a family newspaper.

Kenneth Pippin, an avowed train freak, spent a lot of nights thinking theold-timers had a better idea back when the rails reigned and gave birth to the little towns built hard by the tracks.

Seven years ago,he was running a trucking business, seeing to it that the freight got where it was supposed to go. But all the while, he longed to see people hopping the train again, riding the rails he used to walk as a kid on his way home from Andover High School.

So Pippin staked it all -- his house, his possessions, his remaining cash -- on his lifelong love and bought the little Baltimore & Annapolis Railroad.

Manypeople promptly decided his dreaming had triumphed over his better judgment. Actually, some weren't nearly that polite, and a few got a good laugh out of it.

Even the people who sold him the railroad wondered what possessed him to buy the decaying freight-hauling B & A. Just after signing the deal, Pippin recalls overhearing the previous owners with whom he had negotiated for more than a year.

Laughing, he remembers one of them saying: "This Pippin guy's a real lightweight. I give him and his little railroad a year."

Ken Pippin and his little railroad survived, though.

Today, the 42-year-old father oftwo is about to become a very rich man as the line that carries freight and employs six full-time workers is transformed into the state light rail system's southern spur.

The spur, with new tracks built along the right of way, is expected to carry 16,000 round-trip passengers a day after its opening next spring, resurrecting passenger service on the old B & A route that carried 2 million people a year whenit abandoned passenger service in 1950.

Negotiations over the price for the B & A track hit a snag that prompted state Mass Transit Administration officials, warning of delays, to take preliminary steps toward seeking condemnation last week. B & A responded by accusing state officials of "reneging" on earlier agreements over the price for about 6 miles of right-of-way.

But the two sides continued negotiating and are expected to reach agreement this week, several sources close to the negotiations said.

Based on previous state estimates and purchase prices for other rights-of-way along the $446 million Hunt Valley-to-Glen Burnie rail line, Pippin said he believes he should receive at least $10 million for the railroad he bought for less than$1 million in 1984.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, a driving force behind light rail, is confident agreement will be reached in time tocomplete the southern spur by next spring, said Paul Schurick, Schaefer's press secretary. This would enable passengers to ride the trainto the Orioles home opener in their new stadium in downtown Baltimore next spring.

As county residents prepare to ride the rails once again, the restoration of passenger service is expected to forever change the face of Ferndale, one of the town's built along the tracks in the 1850s.

Inspired by light rail's impending arrival, a county revitalization plan includes more than $1 million to spruce up the commercial strip lining the tracks. The result, judging from planners' visions of Ferndale's "village center," looks more like Columbia thanFerndale ever did.

The ambitious plan, intended to serve as a model for similar restoration and face-lift efforts throughout Anne Arundel, grew out of recommendations of a committee of business owners, lawmakers, community leaders and county planners.

It calls for replacing fading facades, a mishmash of signs and buckling pavements witha landscaped, tree-lined boulevard, new wide pavements, parking, sidewalk cafes, street lights, tree planters and a light rail stop modeled after one where passengers awaited trains five decades ago.

Pippin, riding aboard a private passenger train pulled by a B & A enginefor a YMCA fund-raiser Wednesday night, surveyed the rotting wood, the cracked sidewalk that stops between businesses and the fading facades, signs and awnings.

"Is this really what we want 16,000 peoplea day to see when they ride the train into Anne Arundel County?" he asked, shaking his head in disgust.

"This is their first look," added Pippin, who also serves as president of the Greater Ferndale Improvement Association. "I think it's a matter of community pride that we can offer better."

But the plan hinges on cooperation -- and money -- from local business owners.

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