Howard Street light rail reopens

Service resumes in time for crowds at Ravens opener

September 09, 2001|By Kimberly A.C. Wilson | Kimberly A.C. Wilson,SUN STAFF

For the 7,000 football lovers who relied on light rail to ferry them to the Ravens' stadium last season, some good news:

The rail section along Howard Street that closed July 18 reopened yesterday without fanfare -- but just in time for the fans at today's Ravens home opener.

Light rail had not been expected to resume between the Camden Yards and North Avenue stops until this morning -- nearly eight weeks after a broken 40-inch water main compounded troubles caused by a derailed freight train and tunnel fire that caused all traffic to come to a sudden halt along one of downtown Baltimore's busiest north-south corridors.

But engineers completed their inspection of the infrastructure, rails and overhead electrical wires hours ahead of schedule, said Mass Transit Administration spokeswoman Suzanne Bond, and rail service resumed operation about 8:30 a.m., prompting spontaneous applause from passers-by near some stations.

"People hadn't seen trains running through there for so long," Bond said.

That would explain the pleased amazement of riders like Susan Eakes, a computer consultant, who said she was "more than relieved" to settle into the gray cloth seat of a two-car light rail for the commute between her Camden Yards warehouse office and home.

"This went down a week after I took the job here," Eakes said.

The closure affected a group of stations midway in the 30-mile light rail system between Hunt Valley and Cromwell Station/Glen Burnie. Affected stops included North Avenue, Penn Station, University of Baltimore/Mount Royal, Cultural Center, Centre Street, Lexington Market, University Center/Baltimore Street, Convention Center and Camden Yards.

For nearly eight weeks, MTA officials rerouted riders onto buses for the trip bypassing Howard. But many regular riders, such as David Cofield, 19, found other alternatives.

Cofield, a junior electrical engineering and physics student at the University of Maryland, College Park, said he patched together a different route to and from summer school on a series of trains and buses.

Bond, the MTA spokeswoman, wasn't surprised.

"People weren't enthusiastically riding the bus bridge," she said. About 800 people used the service each day for the past eight weeks, she said. "When you're used to 28,000 to 29,000 riders at peak times, that's [a] big drop-off."

"It affected revenue," too, although the tally isn't known yet, Bond said.

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