With light rail, waiting is hardest part Convenience is a plus, but the post-game lines, crowded trains can be pain

August 30, 1998|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

For $2.70 round-trip, light rail is an inexpensive means of avoiding traffic jams and an endless search for parking while coming to Ravens stadium.

The caveat is that light rail could mean a large line and a wait for a train to take you home.

This is one man's story. This man learned that if it's worth the risk, go early. Those who took that approach grumbled least, yours truly among them.

For the 7: 30 p.m. kickoff, I arrived at the Linthicum station at about 4: 50, finding only a few fellow travelers. Despite light rail's many quirks, those around me were enthusiastic about the opportunity for a cheap ride and to avoid traffic.

Those who had taken it to Orioles games considered it more convenient than the alternative, and if the Linthicum station was empty, so maybe the train would be as well.

Appearances can be deceiving, however. Reba McEntire fans also taking light rail -- for a concert blocks away from the stadium that night -- meant that the train from Cromwell Station was at near capacity when it reached Linthicum at 5: 05 p.m. and left 30 to 45 seconds later. Seats? Hah! Your chances of an armpit sandwich were much better.

Yet even for a passenger hanging onto poles to keep from falling, the cars were not so crowded as to force involuntary contact among the passengers. But they were crowded enough to make it difficult for an MTA police officer to check tickets.

Outside, it was all one brown blur as the train made its stops every two minutes, at North Linthicum, then Nursery Road. It was a little before 5: 15 p.m. when the train suddenly stopped between Nursery Road and Baltimore Highlands, and the lights went off. After about five minutes of passengers' muttering and moaning, the train started moving again.

Finally, at 5: 25 p.m., after stops at the Patapsco, Cherry Hill and Westport stations, the end seemed near, as water appeared from the middle branch of the Patapsco River near the stadium.

Twenty-five minutes after leaving Linthicum, the train arrived at the Hamburg Street station, putting the fans right outside of Gate B in front of the stadium, two hours before kickoff. Most passengers were thrilled to be let out so close.

"Our ride was fine, it was a great value," said Anthony Kerrigan, a 66-year-old retiree from Linthicum. "Imagine if they didn't have light rail, what it would be like."

But after the game, people were lined up at least a mile deep to the end of the emergency service road along the east side of the stadium. While 68 minutes is usually the most one would have to wait to board a train after an Orioles game, the MTA said that Ravens fans confronted waits of 90 minutes to two hours because the system was overloaded.

UPDATE: For Monday's preseason game, the system's 8,000-rider capacity matched the number of fans who took it, so most people could board the first train that arrived on the way to the stadium and didn't wait longer than 30 minutes to leave the stadium.

To divert people from rail, the MTA promoted its park-and-ride buses, adding service from Hunt Valley and a $4 bus from Poly/Western High School. However, only about 150 to 200 more people showed up to ride the buses. Rail service also improved with the presence of human ticket sellers who could handle a crush of people better than the automated dispensers.

Afterward, service benefited from the fact that some fans started departing at halftime.

Stadium review

The Ravens have played two preseason games at home, letting fans get an early look at what the new stadium is all about. Now, with the regular-season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers a week away, this section critiques various aspects -- from getting there, to tailgating, to watching the game. Ratings used are thumbs up, thumbs down and a combination of up and down.


Pub Date: 8/30/98

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