Light rail service between Timonium and Baltimore's North Avenue is scheduled to resume today after nearly a year of track construction that forced inconvenient detours on thousands of riders.
The 4.3-mile stretch has been closed since January as part of the Maryland Transit Administration's $207 million project to transform nearly the entire 30-mile system into a faster, two-track network.
With the restoration of service - delayed three months by construction problems - the system's 25,000 daily riders will again be able to travel by train from Timonium to the most southern stops of Cromwell, Anne Arundel County, and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
All that remains on the project is a five-mile segment between Timonium and Hunt Valley, which includes five stops in Baltimore County.
That is scheduled to reopen with double tracks in February, with the state continuing to provide shuttles for passengers until then, an MTA spokeswoman said.
When the project is complete, all but 2.6 miles of the light rail system will have two tracks.
With a single track, delays were frequent - trains had to pull over to allow others to pass in the opposite direction or to wait for emergency repairs and routine maintenance.
With a second set of tracks, MTA officials say, trains will be available every 10 minutes between Linthicum and Timonium during peak hours.
Light rail riders heading for Pennsylvania Station will transfer at the Mount Royal stop.
For Daniel Holsey of Catonsville, the reopening of the North Avenue-to-Timonium tracks could not come soon enough.
Holsey will still have to transfer to a shuttle in Timonium to get to his Hunt Valley job at MBNA. But, he said, that will be far more convenient than having to depend on shuttles from North Avenue.
During construction, he rode the light rail to North Avenue, hopped a shuttle to Timonium and transferred to another bus to Hunt Valley.
"The shuttles have been really, really slow," said Holsey, 20, a University of Maryland, Baltimore County student.
Carlos Bridges, 30, of Baltimore takes the light rail from Cultural Center station off Howard Street to a job as a cook in Hunt Valley. Since the shutdown, Bridges has had no luck finding the North Avenue shuttle that can most quickly deliver him to his job: "It's been totally inconvenient."
MTA officials have acknowledged that ridership has declined since the double track project started last year.
The first phase involved closing two southern portions of the system between Camden Yards and Glen Burnie from February to December 2004. The project's cost has risen from $153 million to $207 million since the start of 2004 because of additional work on signals and traffic control, MTA spokeswoman Holly Ellison said.
Had the track reopened on time, Charles Gunter would not have been more than an hour late for his doctor's appointment Friday. To get to his doctor's Falls Road office, the 44-year-old former shipyard worker would travel light rail from Cherry Hill to the Cold Spring station.
Since the shutdown, he has had to disembark at the Cultural Center station, two stops south of North Avenue, to catch the No. 27 bus, which dropped him near his doctor's office.
The shuttles from North Avenue did not provide such service, he said. But Friday he waited from 1 p.m. until just after 3 p.m. for a bus that never came:
"I've been waiting and waiting."
With today's planned reopening, his wait will be over.
Information about the double track project can be found at mtadoubletrack.com. Riders with questions can call 410-333-2354.