Shut Linthicum light rail station, most tell MTA at hearing

MTA is proposing to cut back service at station, but other users call it a lifeline

  • A northbound light rail train arrives at the Linthicum station.
A northbound light rail train arrives at the Linthicum station. (Jed Kirschbaum, Baltimore…)
May 20, 2011|By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

From the man who tried unsuccessfully to use his car as a getaway vehicle for a theft — but ultimately carried the loot to the Linthicum light rail station — to repeated damage that threatened to cost him a take-home car from work, Bruce Henkel has had enough of problems he says the station has brought to his neighborhood.

The Anne Arundel County plumbing inspector lives a stone's throw from the station — as he says damage to his property indicates. In the past year, youths have pitched stones from the station that broke two windows and dented his take-home car, and damaged his home.

"We had one lady who came all the way up [from the station] on my steps to deposit a bag of trash on my front steps," he said during a Maryland Transit Administration public hearing this week on curtailing the service at the station.

Like most of the three dozen people speaking at the Tuesday night hearing, he advocated not just trimming three hours off evening service, as the MTA proposed, but shutting the station entirely, though some residents in the neighborhood say the station is their transportation lifeline.

"We'll be back here again if it's not closed," Nick Cosentino, a founder of community group, Citizens Against the Linthicum light rail, told the crowd of about 150 people, including neighbors, light rail riders and agency officials. The MTA has never closed a light rail station.

The secluded station, with no parking, has been blamed for crime, panhandlers and similar problems. Police statistics on what crime may be related to the station were not available.

But some riders told officials they have no car, making the station crucial. They said they use the light rail daily to reach work, school, family and stores.

One woman said the complaints about riders smacked of class discrimination; a man said he worries that shorter hours on Ravens and Orioles game nights will put more drunken drivers on the road. Others wondered whether closing the station would shift problems to another community, not solve them. About 10 residents and riders urged the agency to keep the station open or get more information before making a decision on its hours.

"I use the Linthicum light rail station because the library is there," said Charles McManus, who doesn't drive and lives near another stop on the line. "The problem of closing it at 8 o'clock is the library is open until 9 o'clock." And if the station is closed, he can't get to the library at all, he said.

After the hearing, Kevin Walker said that he needs the neighborhood station open, with the full hours. His work day at BWI-Marshall Airport, where he is a Transportation Security Administration officer, ends at 8:30 p.m., so stopping service at 8 p.m. would leave him stranded.

"I would have to cut my hours back," he said. "I don't have a car. I rely on light rail."

Walking from another station more than a half-mile away, especially after dark, poses a safety concern: There's no network of sidewalks between them and his home, he said. He plans to submit written comments to the MTA, and did not speak at the hearing.

The station is included in a yearlong MTA examination of the light rail system, evaluating efficiency, cleanliness and station use.

The MTA proposal, which could lead to cutting hours as early as late June, arose after a man was beaten and robbed at midday Feb. 12 a few blocks from the station, near the library. Outrage focused on two Halethorpe teenagers who were charged as well as on the station, though security video did not capture the youths on the light rail that morning.

In the aftermath, security was beefed up. The MTA has installed 15 cameras and is adding a security kiosk and a blue-light emergency call box there. It has removed a bench where people were loitering near a Royal Farms store. Police presence, including by Anne Arundel County officers, in and around the station has increased.

The ease of riding without paying not only leads to lost revenue but is part of the problem, some residents said.

Terry Owens, a spokesman for the MTA, said that system was designed for the honor system of payment, though there are fare inspectors.

He said the MTA stepped up fare inspections at the station for a month during February and March, netting 11 riders who had outstanding warrants. Five of those were Anne Arundel County residents.

MTA is accepting written comment through June 17.

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