Some say light rail can be heavy burden

Linthicum residents oppose more tracks

March 26, 2001|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Debra Klimczyk leaves her home in Linthicum to pick up her two young sons from school every weekday at 3 p.m. - a little early for the quick jaunt. But she wants to get a good parking spot and knows she'll likely be delayed at the light rail crossing as she drives down Maple Road.

And after Justin, 7, and Christian, 9, pile into the blue Dodge Caravan, with 2-year-old Anne Marie sleeping in her car seat, they and their mother usually hear the warning bells, watch the gate come down and see the train whirl by before they get home from Linthicum Elementary.

"No matter what, I hit it at least twice a day," Klimczyk said. "No matter where I'm going."

Sometimes the hardest part about living in Linthicum is finding the quickest way around the community.

Heading to the airport? Be prepared to stop at the light rail crossing at Aviation Boulevard. The post office? The Maple Road crossing may get in the way. The bank? A train could be crossing at Camp Meade Road.

"Generally, to get out of the Linthicum area, you have to cross the tracks; sometimes you can cross it as many as three different times," Klimczyk said. "If you want to go to [Interstate] 695, you have to cross the tracks, to Route 10, to Route 170, any of the major roads, you have to cross the tracks."

And some residents fear those rail delays could get worse when the Mass Transit Administration installs a double-track system in Linthicum - an area with a small-town feeling where everyone seems to know everybody else, tucked behind Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

If the MTA increases train frequency in the area after it installs double tracking, it could result in one train running through every four minutes during rush hour.

"I think it's a horrible idea," said Klimczyk, who has lived in Linthicum for 30 years and said she doesn't like the light rail disrupting its small-town atmosphere. She lives on Maple Road, which means her only way out is a drive over the tracks.

"Right now, the frustration is tolerable. But after that, I think it's going to be intolerable and cause people to change real estate," she said.

Double tracks will be installed in eight sections from Timonium to Glen Burnie. The work is scheduled for completion by late 2005 or early 2006, said Diane Ratcliff, chief of environmental planning for the MTA. The construction in Linthicum is expected to start in late 2003 and last for two years, she said.

After the double tracks are installed, the MTA's goal is to increase the trains' frequency - possibly by 2007 - from one running every 17 minutes to one every eight minutes during rush hour, Ratcliff said.

For the Linthicum area, a transit stop and junction of two light rail routes - the main line and the BWI line - the result some years in the future could be a train every four minutes during peak hours.

"There's no other community in the state that would be affected by this the same way those increased frequencies would affect us," said Richard Forgo, vice president of the Linthicum-Shipley Improvement Association. "If they're going to subject us to that burden, then they need to take care of us in another way."

Ratcliff said benefits of double tracks include allowing trains to pass through stops without waiting for each other and preventing stops from being shut down while one track is closed for maintenance.

"With the double track project completed, our service will be a lot smoother and reliable," she said.

Some residents support the idea of double tracking, on the assumption that the trains would be able to pass through crossings more quickly if they did not have to stop for each other, Forgo said. But many worry that more frequent trains would cause the gates to close more often, leading to more traffic delays.

"If they increase the frequency of the trains, the net benefit we get from the trains is lost," Forgo said. "We're right back where we were, if not in a worse situation."

Coping with it

For Bob Lamy, that "where we were" is delay, delay, delay on his way to catch a Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) train to his job in Washington every morning at 6:15. If he gets stopped at Camp Meade Road and sees the train heading toward the airport, he knows he'll probably get stopped by the same train two more times.

Christina McVey works out of her home on Maple Road, but whenever she leaves her house to run errands, grab lunch or take her two children to Linthicum Elementary, she almost always has to sit at the crossing.

"I hate it," she said. "There's three directions you can go in Linthicum, and the light rail blocks all three. It creates a barrier to getting around the town."

Residents are primarily concerned about the crossings at Twin Oaks, Maple and Camp Meade roads. Besides delays, residents say, they worry that increased congestion could cause property values to plummet and slow the response of emergency vehicles.

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