Return of the streetcar

Monday Books

September 28, 1992|By Geoffrey W. Fielding

THE HISTORY OF BALTIMORE'S STREETCARS. By Michae R. Farrell. Greenberg Publishing Co., Sykesville. 319 pages. Illustrated. $45.95.

IN ONE sense "The History of Baltimore's Streetcars" is not a new book. It was published as "Who Made All Our Streetcars Go?" almost 20 years ago.

But Greenberg, which has made a speciality of books about trains of all kinds (including Lionel), has reset the type, revised the layout and added 34 color photographs. Two new chapters by Herbert H. Harwood Jr. bring the story up to date, while another has been extensively revised by Andrew S. Blumberg. As can be imagined, the price has gone up considerably from $16.

What streetcar buffs get, though, is a very handsome book much enhanced by the new color section on streetcars in operation during the 1940s and '50s. Some are now refurbished and in the Baltimore Streetcar Museum.

The last streetcar to run in Baltimore, as noted in the earlier book, was in November 1963. But, said the author, "there are increasing indications that Baltimore will finally see the implementation of real rapid transit during the lifetimes of many who read this."

Those were prophetic words. The new era began two years later when planning began for the city's subway.

By the time the first stage of Metro was completed and the second was under way, costs were in orbit. While the first phase, downtown to Owings Mills, was relatively free of engineering difficulties, the section currently under construction from Charles Center to Johns Hopkins Hospital has been plagued with problems and its opening delayed until 1994. (Only last week gas fumes from the project forced the evacuation of a day care center in Jonestown.)

In the meantime, "light rail" (the new trolleys), as opposed to the "heavy rail" of the subway, began operating this year on the right-of-way of the old Northern Central line.

So Baltimore has come full circle. And -- who knows? -- some day we may get rid of those smelly, noisy, irksome buses. Geezers will remember, and this book points out, that under the several layers of asphalt on many city streets are the old streetcar tracks just waiting to be rolled on again.

That'll be the day!

Geoffrey W. Fielding is a Baltimore writer.

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