On the first day of the new Maryland Rail Commuter service between Perryville and Baltimore, Bob Harner today stood with a handful of commuters at the Aberdeen station and waited for the a.m. train.
The train pulled into the station at 6:42 a.m., and Harner, who works for Alex Brown & Sons in downtown Baltimore, got on board. The train's tardiness didn't matter.
"This is great," said Harner, who has commuted downtown from Churchville since 1983. "I've been looking forward to this for a long time."
The problem was caused by trouble with the MARC train and an Amtrak train changing tracks, said MARC officials, who said the problem should be worked out by tomorrow.
But to many commuters the problem was nearly unnoticed.
Bill Hatten, who also commutes to downtown Baltimore from Churchville, said he expects to save money on the daily commute in parking and gas expenses, as well as wear and tear on his car.
"I wish this had happened a year ago," Hatten said. "This makes it a lot easier to commute."
Kenneth Williams of Bel Air said that before today's new MARC service began he had to drive an hour to the Odenton station to catch a train to his job in Washington.
"It's a lot of wear and tear and makes a long day," said Williams, who works for the U.S. court system. "This also gives me an option because I can use the MARC ticket on some Amtrak trains."
But perhaps Pam McAlexander is typical of the type of commuter the state is after.
The Edgewood resident works in Baltimore and said she's tired of the "White Marsh Crunch" during rush hours on Interstate 95. She's tired of spending so much time in her car and on the bus. But, like many young professionals, she's never had to depend on a train to get her to work.
"This will be a new experience for me," she said. "I'm a little leery."
"We just have to build the discipline" to use mass transportation, said Roger B. Hayden, the Baltimore County executive.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer and other dignitaries gathered yesterday for a promotional run of the new line. It was reminiscent of an old whistle-stop campaign, with school bands, local business leaders and others greeting the train, unofficially dubbed the Susquehanna Flyer, as it pulled into stations at Martin State Airport, Edgewood, Aberdeen and Perryville.
At several stops, Schaefer was praised repeatedly for his "foresight" in promoting mass transportation. To some, it's really hindsight.
"The irony is that we're going back to systems of transportation that were available 30 or 40 years ago," said Gary Lee, a Jarrettsville resident and real estate development consultant who plans to use the new MARC line to Washington one or two days a week.
Lee, 51, remembers the old Ma & Pa Railroad, the Maryland and Pennsylvania, from his youth. It ran from Baltimore through rural Baltimore and Harford counties to York, Pa. He also recalls the Northern-Central Railroad, now a bike path, that ran from Baltimore to Harrisburg.
"It should have been done years ago," Lee said of expanding commuter rail service.
"I spend many hours each day in my car. The trip to Washington is quite a physical burden. To be able to get on a train and do some work is a big advantage."
In addition to promoting the service as a way to avoid gridlock, transportation officials are touting the savings to be made by using the new line, officially called the Penn North.
McAlexander, a personnel official for Maryland National Mortgage in downtown Baltimore, estimated she spends about $90 a month driving from Edgewood to White Marsh, then catching a bus downtown.
She lives several blocks from the new MARC station in Edgewood. A monthly pass on the train will cost her $77. For at least a month, she will be able to ride buses free from Pennsylvania Station to the Inner Harbor area or elsewhere downtown. MARC officials are offering the free bus service as a promotion, but they are not sure how long it will last.
Officials are expecting about 400 round-trip passengers on the new line initially. Robert Shreeve, MARC's marketing manager, said he expected ridership to grow to about 1,000 by the end of the year. It's unclear how many commuters will stop in Baltimore or continue on to Washington, he said.
Three trains travel south from Perryville each weekday morning. Four trains travel north from Washington and Baltimore each weekday evening.
Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, who as a state delegate worked for eight years on starting the new rail service, said the Penn North line will be a tool for economic development as well as a way of moving commuters.
She and other officials said they hope the service can be expanded soon so more workers can be brought into suburban areas by train. That way, she said, a company that needs a larger or more skilled labor force than can be found in the county can pull workers from a broader area.