City Streetcars Return!

January 16, 1992

Barring some unforeseen difficulty, streetcars will begin their downtown comeback this week, when the Mass Transit Administration turns on the electricity along a 1.5-mile stretch of Howard Street. Trains will then be tested seven days a week between Dolphin and Camden Streets in preparation for light-rail service in the spring. It is a welcome return after a 28-year absence.

These are exciting times. A popular technology that was forsaken for allegedly being outmoded is reborn. Just think about it: in 1923, Baltimore had an extensive streetcar network that enabled people to travel to areas that even today's bus routes cannot duplicate. The well-known No. 8 streetcar line connected Towson with Catonsville. No. 5 ran from Glyndon to Patterson Park. Halethorpe was reachable from East Baltimore on the No. 9. And so on.

When America's love affair with the automobile became an addiction, streetcars fell into disuse. The trains using Howard Street -- which now will be traversed by the $446.3 million Central Light Rail Line -- were replaced with trackless trolleys just before World War II. The last of those trolleys disappeared in 1959, more than four years before the last streetcar took its final run in Baltimore on Nov. 3, 1963.

Now they are coming back! Last week, the MTA turned on electricity on the track between the Woodberry and Timonium stops. After the Howard Street stretch is energized, six more stops will operational: Cultural Center (near the Meyerhoff concert hall), Centre Street, Lexington Market, University Center/Baltimore Street, Pratt Street and Camden Yards.

If you happen to see any of the sleek light-rail trains as they make their test runs, wave a welcome. And if you cannot wait till April to board the trains themselves, there is always the Baltimore Streetcar Museum and its collection of trolleys that just refuse to die.

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