William Donald Schaefer was one happy governor.
He not only took his first ride on the area's spanking new light-rail line yesterday -- he even got to drive.
"It was very smooth. I drove it!" an excited Schaefer said after the two-mile test run on one of his pet construction projects.
"It was fast. It's going to be economical. It's going to carry a lot of people," he boasted.
Schaefer caught the light-rail car at the Woodberry Station at Union Avenue in Baltimore and drove it to the North Avenue maintenance shop -- observing the 40 mph speed limit, by his account.
A man who loves hats almost as much as new projects, Schaefer donned a Mass Transit Administration cap after yesterday's drive and spoke about the jobs the rail construction created during the recession.
The rail line has seen its share of controversy. Its $446 million cost is 54 percent higher than the original estimate, and the construction process legally sidestepped time-con
suming federal environmental rules.
But the governor's support has remained steadfast.
"This [project] is on time and on budget," Schaefer said, obviously happy to report good news after weeks of struggling with budget cuts and firings.
The line from Timonium to Camden Station will open this April, in time for the first Oriole game at the new ballpark there, MTA chief Ronald J. Hartman said. Shortly thereafter, service will be extended south to the Anne Arundel County line.
But the rest of the 27.5 mile line will not open on schedule, or even next year.
The legs from Timonium to Hunt Valley and from Baltimore to Glen Burnie will not open before 1993, Hartman said. The same holds for planned spurs to Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Baltimore's Pennsylvania Station.
The state ran into lengthy purchase negotiations with the owner of the Anne Arundel County segment, the Baltimore and Annapolis Railroad. That pushed back the opening date to early 1993, Hartman said.
Delays in obtaining federal approvals are expected to delay the start of construction on the Hunt Valley, Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Pennsylvania Station spurs until late next year, Hartman said. The state did not need federal approval for the first section because it was built entirely with state and local funds.
The MTA has two light-rail cars -- each made up of two permanently joined vehicles -- making test runs. A third Swedish-engineered car is expected to arrive today, and the fleet eventually is to total 35.
The inside of the sleek, white, $1.6 million trolley resembles the interior of a Washington Metro subway car, except it has wall-mounted buttons and strips inside.
Light-rail riders will press the strips to signal their desire to get off at the next stop and will hit the button to open the doors. They must press a button outside the car when they want to board as well.
The car can be driven from either end -- and by almost anyone with a little training, as Schaefer demonstrated.