And the winner of the car vs. light rail stadium commute is ... Train ride costs $6.70 less than driving

passenger enjoys company of other riders

September 26, 1993|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Staff Writer

Articles in Sunday's editions of The Sun that compared the costs of driving and taking light rail from Timonium to Oriole Park at Camden Yards mistakenly omitted the return trip from the driver's mileage total. At 28 cents a mile, the 30-mile round trip cost $8.40. Including a $5 parking fee, the cost of driving and parking was $10.90 greater than the $2.50 round-trip rail ticket.

The Sun regrets the errors.

At 6 p.m., the light rail train pulled away from Timonium Station. Immediately, there was a familiar twinge -- something forgotten.

The $2.50 round-trip ticket was in the jacket pocket. Cash? Enough, even for the Camden Yards concessionaires. The car was safely parked in the free lot.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Glancing around at the 100 or so passengers in Central Light Rail Line car No. 5029, the missing element became clear. Forgot to bring along a preteen. All the other adults seemed to have one sitting beside them.

"This is the only time we have to talk," says Maria LoBionco, a Lutherville nurse with her 11-year-old son Tom. "We have a lot of fun."

Tom wore an Orioles cap and an Orioles T-shirt. He brought his Lloyd Moseby outfielders glove with signatures of Al Bumbry, Tippy Martinez and Baysox player Tommy Taylor.

Communing with other riders is the greatest pleasure in taking light rail to Camden Yards. On board, the festive atmosphere is a bit like a gathering of Shriners, substituting baseball caps for fezzes.

Scott Leatherwood, a Manchester commercial artist, was chatting with his friends, Linda, Frank, and 8-year-old Todd Funk of Hanover, Pa., as the train passed the fairgrounds.

"I always get on early. Come at 6:30 and you have to stand," explains Mr. Leatherwood, 30.

Images pass fleetingly: A grand Victorian house in Lutherville, an old train station converted into a home. Quick, there's the best view of the day: Lake Roland in Robert E. Lee Park, shimmering placid and cool.

Looking up, the Jones Falls Expressway is on the left. Curses, traffic's clear. The trolley will surely be bested by the passenger car, like some contemporary John Henry losing to the infernal steam engine.

But what of the quality of the experience? The seat is comfortable, although the legroom less than generous. The light rail car smells new and is remarkably clean -- one burger wrapper is the only debris.

The ride is smooth. It's quieter than a car except on turns, when metal wheels sliding along steel rails produce an annoying squeal.

By Howard Street, the fast-moving train slows to a crawl. It seems to make two-minute stops at every traffic light -- Centre Street, Franklin Street, and on and on.

Losing patience, two-thirds of the passengers disembark at Pratt Street, walking an extra two blocks.

One stop later, the train disgorges the rest of its load at Camden Yards, 45 minutes after leaving Timonium, five minutes behind schedule.

A brief walk to the B&O Warehouse and the moment of arrival is recorded with a tap on the wall of Bambino's Pub: 48 minutes from start to finish.

The challenge resumes at 9:48 p.m., moments after the Tigers' **

Dan Gladden catches a fly ball in left field off the bat of Mike vTC Pagliarulo. The Orioles have lost, and the fans seem as listless as the ballplayers.

At the warehouse, an orange net guides pedestrians past the parking lot. Signs direct light rail riders to the transit platform, and then divide southbound from northbound.

At 9:58, the doors close on a light rail train, its riders downright smug at their quick getaway.

"Where am I going?" A waiting man roars to his wife after missing the train. "I'm going to walk to the airport and take a plane home. That's where I'm going!"

Five minutes later, another train rolls in. John and Betsy Eubank of Lutherville board. It's their seventh time taking light rail to Camden Yards, and they remain fans of the fledgling transit system.

"I hear a lot of complaints about light rail but we've never had a problem," Mr. Eubank says.

The train is packed, people standing in the aisles.

The Eubanks strike up a conversation with Pearle "Lucky" Clarke, a gray-haired retiree from Grand Rapids, Mich., wearing a Tigers cap.

Mrs. Clarke, her husband and friends are guests at a motel in Timonium where, she confides, the rooms cost only $39 "and they give you a free breakfast.

"My name's Lucky but this is unheard of," she says.

By 10:15, the sluggish trolley is still within sight of the ballpark. But Mrs. Clarke regales her companions with stories of her travels -- a hotel room inside Toronto's Skydome costs $168, incidentally.

"I just came to see the stadium," Mrs. Clarke says sheepishly. "I didn't expect the Tigers to win."

Parents awaken their sleeping kids as the train arrives in Timonium at 10:52 p.m.

In the parking lot, the time is 10:55 p.m. -- 50 minutes after boarding, 1 hour and 7 minutes after the game.

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