Clang, clang, clang went the trolley, and hundreds of Baltimoreans eager for a free ride climbed on board yesterday.
It was the last of three days of "orientation" rides offered by the Mass Transit Administration to acquaint people with the new light-rail service.
"We all wanted to be one of the first ones to get on it. There's something kind of historical about it," said Demetrius Robinson, 21, who got on a twin-car southbound train at Centre Street with his girlfriend, Latanya Wilson, 21.
"I think it's neat," said Miss Wilson, who was nevertheless unsure whether it would last. "If people don't like it, are they going to take it out?"
After nearly two years of construction and $490 million spent, that doesn't seem likely.
The first 13 miles of the light-rail system, between Timonium and Camden Station, will open for stadium events April 3.
The formal start-up of regular service is May 13.
Yesterday's first-time passengers seemed delighted with the trains' smooth, quiet and surprisingly nimble ride.
But for the MTA, the debut was not without problems.
At 1:55 p.m., a southbound light-rail train stalled after an emergency stop for a pedestrian in the intersection at Howard and Saratoga streets. While it was stopped, it was struck broadside by an eastbound car.
MTA spokeswoman Diana Rosborough said neither the car's driver, Richard Alexander Damon, of the 2000 block of Woodlawn Drive in Woodlawn, nor light-rail passengers were injured. There was minor damage to the car, but none to the train, she said.
MTA representatives on the trains said they expect it will take awhile for pedestrians and motorists to get used to the new rail right-of-way on Howard Street and the quiet trains.
The free rides yesterday were limited to stops between North Avenue and Camden Station.
"It's the continuing saga of the Disney-fication of Baltimore," said Andrew J. Colletta, 42, a Reservoir Hill resident who took the round trip from Camden Station with a friend, Paul K. Britt, 28.
Although he can't use it to commute, Mr. Colletta believes the state's investment was sound.
"Anything that makes the metropolitan area more cohesive, to get people to their jobs and fully integrate the transit system, makes any region work better," he said.
Mr. Britt pronounced the new line "progressive; anything to get people out of their cars."
For Evelyn M. Moore, 68, who moved to Barre Street in downtown Baltimore from Boston three years ago, the light rail is just another of Baltimore's surprising pleasures.
"Naturally this is more beautiful than what we have [in Boston]," she said. "It's very, very smooth."
Even better, it's seven minutes from her house and runs to both the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and her favorite dress store in Timonium.
Yesterday's rides were a chance for Elizabeth A. Gregoire, 78, of Bolton Street and her son, Michael R. Athey, 54, of Pigtown to try out the new rail system and recall the old days of Baltimore's streetcars.
"We'd been talking about doing this," Mrs. Gregoire said as she waited in her wheelchair on a handicap access ramp at Centre Street.
Mr. Athey said, "We moved to Dundalk in 1943 and we rode the trolley cars back and forth between downtown and Sparrows Point."
"We went to the beach that way, too, on the old Red Rocket," Mrs. Gregoire recalled.
"Bay Shore, that's where we would go to have a picnic when the boys were little."