Marilyn Webster used to stare at the exhaust billowing from hundredsof cars as she headed south on Interstate 95 to work each morning.
Now her view is of the sun peeking through trees and morning fog rising off the Gunpowder River, and her memory of inching her way through the "White Marsh Crunch" during rush-hour traffic is quickly fading.
The Riverside resident has traded her stressful, daily routine offighting bumper-to-bumper traffic for a comfortable seat and the soothing, rhythmic clickity-clack of train wheels rolling over railroad tracks.
Since its inaugural run May 1, Webster has been among the Harford commuters riding the Maryland Rail Commuter train to Baltimore and Washington. Webster daily boards in Edgewood at 6:30 a.m. and arrives a half-hour later at Pennsylvania Station in Baltimore.
Shesays she loves riding the train not only because she arrives at workrelaxed instead of being stressed-out by traffic, but also because she saves on gasoline, parking and automotive wear-and-tear.
Mark L. Szczybor, of Joppa, has been riding the train to Baltimore daily. He says he doesn't miss sitting in traffic congestions one bit. "And the price is right," he says.
A monthly pass for riding the train costs him $77. He says that's about what it cost monthly to drive his car, even though he didn't pay for parking. In the long run, he says,he's saving even more money in wear on his 7-year old car.
The new MARC service originates in Perryville and travels to Baltimore withstops in Aberdeen, Edgewood, and Martin State Airport in Baltimore County. The train then continues to Union Station in Washington, stopping at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and six other places.
The service is offered Monday through Friday, with three southbound trains leaving Perryville at 5:30, 6:15 and 6:50 a.m. and four northbound trains departing Penn Station at 4:55, 5:55, 6:55, and 7:38p.m.
Bob Shreeve, manager of marketing for the State Railroad Administration, estimates that more than 400 -- about 240 from Harford County -- round-trip passengers daily have used the new line during its first month of operation. Officials hope that number will grow after people become more familiar with the service.
Shreeve says initial response to the train service exceeds the net profit required by law to keep the train running. Federal and state money subsidize the service, says Shreeve, but a minimum of 50 percent has to come out of the fare box.
Not only people commuting to work are using the new commuter line.
"We are getting a lot of day-trippers to D.C.," said Shreeve. "Many of them are riding the train for nostalgic reasons; they remember taking the train in the 50s and 60s."
Taking the train to BWI Airport also has become popular since the service's start on May 1. Shreeve says it's about an hour's ride from Aberdeen to BWI.
But it's working commuters that make up the bulk of MARC users now. And for many of them, like Debbie Theband, of Bel Air, using mass transportation is a new experience.
Theband takes the train to Baltimore almost daily, but says she has had to discipline herself to using three different modes of transportation. She drives her car to Edgewood, hops on the train, then uses three different shuttle buses toget to her job at Charles and Pratt Street. She says at times "It's more of a hassle, but I will stick it out for a while, because I saveparking expenses and it's nice to just sit back and relax on the wayto work."
Though most Harford-to-Baltimore commuters interviewed gave the MARC service a definite thumbs-up, some of those traveling to Washington weren't quite so pleased with the service.
Jerry Weeks, of Forest Hill, says the service to Baltimore is great, but finds the ride to Washington very uneven. He considers the almost daily 10-to 15-minute arrival and departure delays in Washington very frustrating.
"Just the other day we were ready to leave Washington when the locomotive broke down and had to be replaced with another one," said Weeks.
Despite the delays, Weeks said riding the train is more convenient than driving.
Dan W. Hanke, of Edgewood, a pharmacologist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, said "It's probably too soon for harsh judgment since the service has onlybeen offered about a month. But the service is lousy to Washington. Especially when leaving Union Station in the evening. There usually seems to be a breakdown of engines."
Before the Harford MARC service started, Hanke drove to Baltimore-Washington International Airport each morning to pick up the MARC train bound for Washington. Lousy service or not, Hanke says "riding the train is the only way to go; it's environmentally sound."
Shreeve cites many reasons for the problems tied to the Washington service. "There's never a single problem,"he says, "A locomotive dies, the signal system is malfunctioning, the air conditioning breaks down, and there are scheduling problems."
Shreeve's wishes for the future of the line?
He would like to see the Aberdeen station fixed up and estimates about $100,000 is needed to pave and extend the parking lot at the Edgewood station. The wish list also includes additional trains by September or October and more schedule flexibility.