Pam McAlexander seems typical of the type of commuter the state is after.
The Edgewood resident works in Baltimore and says 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.
As new commuter rail service begins today between Perryville ++ and Baltimore, state transportation officials will have the chance to win over McAlexander and others like her.
"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 on 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."
Aside from the burden of fighting gridlock, transportation officials are touting the savings possible 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 is 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.
"Hopefully, this is just the first of many good things to come," said W. Edwin Cole, a Cecil County commissioner. He wants to eventually use the train to attract tourists to Cecil.
Commuter rail service has not been available in Perryville for about eight years. A 1905-vintage brick train station is being renovated for the new MARC line.
Ken Berg, a Kent County resident and member of the Delmarva Rail Passenger Association, a lobbying group, commended state officials for restoring the commuter service. He said many people want to use the train for leisure trips to the Inner Harbor or Washington.
Next on Berg's wish list: "What we'd like to see is rail service down the Delmarva Peninsula."
The Susquehanna Flyer
MARC's Penn North line from Perryville to Baltimore, linking with existing service to Washington, begins today. The line will operate five days a week with three southbound trains mornings and four northbound trains evenings.
A.M. southbound departures
Perryville 5:30 6:15 6:50
Aberdeen 5:39 6:24 6:59
Edgewood 5:51 6:35 7:11
Martin Airport 6:03 6:47 7:23
Penn. Station 6:20 7:05 7:40
West Balto. 6:27 ... ...
Halethorpe 6:32 ... ...
BWI 6:39 7:19 7:54
Odenton 6:46 ... ...
Bowie State 6:53 ... ...
Seabrook 6:59 ... ...
New Carrollton 7:03 ... ...
Union Station 7:20 7:50 8:25
P.M. northbound departures
Union Station 4:15 5:10 5:55 6:45
New Carrollton ... ... 6:04 6:54
Seabrook ... ... 6:09 6:58
Bowie State ... ... 6:16 7:02
Odenton ... ... 6:24 7:10
BWI 4:40 5:41 6:33 7:17
Halethorpe ... ... *6:39 *7:22
West Balto. ... ... *6:45 *7:28
Penn Station 4:55 5:55 6:55 7:38
Martin Airport 5:11 6:10 7:11 7:52
Edgewood 5:20 6:22 7:23 8:04
Aberdeen 5:33 6:35 7:35 8:13
Perryville 5:43 6:45 7:45 *8:20
* Passengers must ask conductor to have train stop for them.