Train goes through the motions Light rail line scheduled to begin service April 5

March 02, 1993|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

On a chilly afternoon, thoughts turned to springtime and catching a train that slices its way through the trees and ends up at the ballpark for a baseball game.

Yesterday, the train left the station -- although just a test run, spring training for the real thing, Opening Day 1993.

On April 5, trains will begin carrying passengers on the light rail line's southern spur, south of Baltimore's Patapsco Avenue station. The new section cuts a winding path, with stops at Baltimore Highlands in Baltimore County, Nursery Road and two stations in Linthicum.

For the first time since the Baltimore & Annapolis Railroad stopped taking passengers in 1950 -- except for a 25-day revival in December 1961 -- trains will once again travel those rails, past towns that grew up with the railroad. Orioles fan David Schmidt intends to be there.

"I've got tickets for Opening Day and plan on going on the train -- if it opens," said Mr. Schmidt, still somewhat skeptical after a 1991 breakdown in negotiations between the state and B&A Railroad delayed a start-up planned for last year's Opening Day.

But as soon as the Mass Transit Administration tests the line, officials said, trains will run as far as Linthicum, at first during baseball games, then later in the month for regular service.

Yesterday, a narrow truck towed a passenger rail car at a snail's pace from Patapsco to Linthicum and back. A four-man crew of technicians, inspectors and engineers stood on the car, checking clearances to the overhead catenary wires that will power the trains.

A train was the last thing 70-year-old Robert Schuman of Linthicum expected to see creeping along. He and his 5-year-old grandson Paul were strolling down the tracks toward a bridge where they often toss stones into the Patapsco River when they learned of the approaching train. Paul quickly decided his track walking days were over, and when the train came into view, scrambled up a high platform and leaned over a railing to get a close look.

"I've been waiting for this for quite a while," said Mr. Schuman, recalling childhood days in West Baltimore when his family took streetcars to the park every Sunday. "This is the way to go."

For Mr. Schmidt, a timely opening means more than a fast, convenient trip to his seat on Opening Day.

His 25-year-old business, Nor-Lin Auto Parts, is on Camp Meade Road just north of the North Linthicum station, whose 162 parking spaces make it one of the largest on the southern line. He expects the rails to deposit hundreds of potential customers near his business at the intersection of Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard.

Already, business has boomed; Nor-Lin has supplied light rail construction crews with tools and equipment to repair their trucks. Now that the construction trucks have left, he's waiting for train passengers to take their place.

Owners of The Rose Restaurant and lounge, located at the same intersection, are counting on so many more customers through North Linthicum that they opened a new deli across the street last March. They expect the aptly named Deli and Donut Depot to satisfy rail passengers' appetites for pizza, subs, coffee and doughnuts.

"We kind of hurried the opening of the deli in anticipation of light rail," said Karen Robuck, office manager at the restaurant. "Now that it's finally on its way, we're all anxiously awaiting its arrival. It will be exciting having it so close. People in the area are looking forward to taking it into town and reducing traffic."

Passenger trains will also be a welcome sight to Pumphrey residents like David Minter, a retired Bethlehem Steel worker who says he'll gladly trade long walks to the bus stop for a short walk across the tracks to the Nursery Road station.

"They should have had it when I was working," said Mr. Minter, who said he plans to enjoy his retirement with train visits to Baltimore for sightseeing and church.

Stanley James, 31, said he planned to switch from bus to the faster, more convenient light rail to get to his job in Baltimore.

"It's right on time," added Russell Lumpkins, 28.

Since the first 16 miles of the $443 million system opened last spring from Timonium to Patapsco Avenue, Linthicum resident Mary Jo Brennan, 64, has taken Patapsco station trains to doctor's appointments at Mercy Medical Center, matinees at the Morris Mechanic Theatre and shopping at Harborplace.

On Sunday, the day before the test run, she and her daughter took a test stroll, timing their walk from her home to the Linthicum station a few blocks away.

The station, which has no parking of its own, sits at the bottom of a hill behind the Royal Farm Store on Camp Meade Road, north of Maple Road.

"I'm all for it," said Ms. Brennan, describing light rail as one of the last remaining bargains. "I'm a senior citizen, so I can go downtown and back for 80 cents."

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