Two tracks are better than one Light rail: Governor's priority must be a second set of tracks to ensure success of region's expanded mass transit line.

October 21, 1997

IT IS TIME to correct a fundamental flaw in the Baltimore region's Central Light Rail Line that runs from Hunt Valley through downtown and south to Ferndale: Some 40 percent of the line lacks a second set of tracks, which will put a tremendous strain on the line as expanded service begins in December to Baltimore-Washington International Airport and to Penn Station.

Without a double set of tracks, northbound and southbound trains must share the single track, forcing delays in both directions and complex scheduling arrangements caused by the space-sharing. The two expansions at year's end will greatly exacerbate this problem, stretching out arrival times at existing light-rail stops and creating the potential of long delays for those traveling north of the University of Baltimore turnoff to Penn Station.

Former Gov. William Donald Schaefer knew that a single track on portions of the light-rail line was less than ideal. But it was the only way to build the line with limited state funds.

Now Gov. Parris N. Glendening must correct that design flaw. Otherwise, complaints from light-rail passengers could grow and the state's effort to encourage mass transit rides instead auto commutes could be for naught.

That will require money in the governor's next budget to start adding a second set of tracks along portions of the light-rail line that pose the biggest bottlenecks. A line with dual tracks would mean more frequent trains during rush hours and for sports events. Frequency is essential to increase ridership.

State officials also must address the considerable problems stemming from their decision to run a second, separate train line between BWI and Penn Station. It will greatly confuse regular riders.

A sensible alternative is a rail shuttle between Penn Station and the University of Baltimore stop on the main line, and a second shuttle between BWI and the Linthicum stop. Shuttles would not disrupt traffic on the main light-rail line. They could be timed to link up with trains on the main line.

The governor cannot ignore light rail's difficulties until after next year's election. Indeed, failure to address these shortcomings could lead to election-year controversies he surely would wish to avoid.

Pub Date: 10/21/97

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