Next Stop: Linthicum ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

March 23, 1993

Little by little, Baltimore's fledgling light-rail system is gaining strength.

This modern-day electric trolley was initially tested about a year ago with baseball fans going to the Orioles exhibition at Camden Yards from Timonium and other points north. Last August, a 3.2-mile extension was added to the original 14-mile segment, stretching the line to Patapsco Avenue.

On April 2, to mark another Orioles exhibition game, the line adds yet another four important stations: Baltimore Highlands in Baltimore County and Nursery Road, North Linthicum and Linthicum in Anne Arundel. "It essentially is a baseball service, although trains will run on a regular schedule," an MTA official said of the extension's initial prospects.

In July, if everything goes well, light-rail service should be extended to Ferndale and Cromwell Station, at Interstate 97 and Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard, bringing it almost to Glen Burnie.

From that point on, the future looks hazier. Three further expansions are on the books. But spurs from Timonium to Hunt Valley in Baltimore County, from Bolton Hill to Penn Station in the city, and from Linthicum to Baltimore-Washington International Airport all depend on the federal government's ability to finance them. Each of the spurs is highly desirable to maximize the line's potential, yet their absence is not fatal. The once-puny line is getting long enough to serve more of the needs of the metropolitan region.

The success of the light-rail line can be measured in various ways. Ridership -- still modest at 5,000 to 7,000 patrons a day -- is only one indicator. The more comprehensive the line becomes, the more its patronage will grow. In that sense, the soon-to-be inaugurated southern extension is crucial. Anyone driving on Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard cannot but be impressed how communities such as Ferndale are natural rail-service neighborhoods. They were built that way in the days of the original commuter railroad.

Perhaps that is also the reason why the light-rail line in Anne Arundel has found far more acceptance among local politicians than in Baltimore County. The former know from their own experiences or from their parents' what an important factor this mass transit mode can be in revitalizing communities and binding them together.

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