Up To Date With Yesteryear

May 13, 1992|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Staff Writer

They demonstrated the difference between Baltimore's new light rail system and its new stadium yesterday.

When Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened last month, there were fireworks and James Earl Jones reading from "Field of Dreams," floating balloons and parades down Pratt Street, a giant autographed baseball and a series of sold-out games.

Yesterday was the ceremonial opening of the Central Light Rail Line.

They had a train tear through a banner.

OK. It wasn't "Field of Dreams." So sue them.

"There's a passion for the Orioles and the ballpark," explained Dianna Rosborough, spokeswoman for the Mass Transit Administration, which organized the event. "Transit is something you get on to go to work."

Still, there was something appropriate about a low-key opening for light rail, a $446.3 million project that has been touted as a sensible approach to public transit -- more attractive than buses but cheaper than a subway.

More than 400 people gathered in the parking lot at Preston and Howard streets next to the Cultural Center light rail stop to celebrate. It was like a high school graduation: speeches and plaques, a brief parade, and lots of self-congratulation on a job well done.

Afterward, the assemblage went into the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and chowed down on a buffet that included a cake decorated like a light rail map.

"Years ago we made an unwise decision to get rid of trolleys and rails in Baltimore," said state Senate Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount, D-Baltimore. "In an urban center like Baltimore, in order to move people . . . light rail is the way to go."

A bit of the luster in yesterday's unveiling was stolen by the MTA, which has provided 125,000 passengers with limited service to Orioles games, as well as free community rides. And regular service between Timonium and Camden Yards doesn't actually begin until Sunday.

The non-event was was notable for its lack of dignitaries: Baltimore's mayor and council president were no-shows, as were Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall, the state's congressional delegation and the General Assembly's chief officers.

But there were plenty of happy people in the crowd, among them Gov. William Donald Schaefer, the project's chief supporter. He praised the legislators who supported the project and those General Assembly members who were willing to "make tough decisions," such as raising taxes.

"There were those who said, 'Don't do it' and that it [light rail] shouldn't be done. Then there were those who said it couldn't be done," Mr. Schaefer said. "And then they did it."

Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer also congratulated the MTA for completing the first phase of light rail in 35 months and under budget, albeit a second budget.

The system was initially projected to cost $290 million.

There was also a symbolic hand-off of sorts. A giant operating key provided by the Baltimore Streetcar Museum linked today's light rail with the city's trolley system, which closed 29 years ago.

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