Soon the streetcars will roll again


April 03, 1992|By Jacques Kelly

If Baltimoreans run true to form today, they will mob the boarding platforms for the first day of the return of streetcar service.

It's been a long time for this event. John F. Kennedy was in the White House when the last of the streetcar lines, the No. 8 (Towson-Catonsville) and No. 15 (Belair Road) were replaced by buses.

The city was never quite the same without the sound of the streetcars' electric motors, spinning wheels and dimes churning mechanical fare boxes.

In their day, the electric cars went everywhere, from Chesapeake Bay to Ellicott City. They bisected and trisected many Baltimore neighborhoods.The streetcar was to Gardenville and Forest Park what a 1955 Chevy was to Harundale and Westview.

Baltimoreans loved these big rocking and bouncing carriages. They seemed to own the streets. At that time, not everyone drove a car. There was no social stigma attached to walking to the corner and waiting for the streetcars with their accordion-like doors.

Today, the Mass Transit Administration uses a new name, "light rail," to describe its fleet of white, computer-brained cars.

The cars travel from Timonium to Oriole Park, largely along the route once traversed by an old steam railroad, the Northern Central division of the old Pennsylvania Railroad.

On the route, there's unexpectedly fine scenery along the Jones Falls and Roland Run valleys. A rider has views of the old Mount Vernon cotton duck mills, the stone houses of Woodberry, steep rock cliffs, the Mount Washington village and Lake Roland.

The stretch along Howard Street passes many classic city landmarks -- Mount Royal Station, the Lyric, Antique Row, the old department stores, Lexington Market and Camden Station.

The MTA's community relations people were amazed when so many people jammed aboard the new light-rail cars last week for free trial runs.

The passengers kept coming and coming. Was it the romance of the rails? The considerable television coverage? (The cars run by the base of Television Hill, after all).Or was it that Baltimoreans have so many fond memories of the way they once went to school, to work, to the movies and everywhere else?

There is more than a little irony to the reappearance of the streetcar. Today, the light-rail system is championed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who pushed for its funding and construction.But in the Baltimore of the 1940s, '50s and '60s, this was not the case among elected brass.

Traffic commissioner Henry Barnes battled the streetcar and doggedly fought this form of public transit.City officials were embarrassed when Charles Center made its debut in the early 1960s. "Old-fashioned" streetcars were still traveling across Fayette Street and spoiling the picture of state-of-the-art office buildings. To love a streetcar was civic treason.

There were those of us who felt cheated and robbed when Baltimore's two last streetcar lines were shut down in the early morning hours of Sunday, Nov. 3, 1963.

And we've spent nearly 29 years waiting for their return.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.