Baltimore Light Rail
Trip Report by Scott M. Kozel
I took my first trip on the new light rail line in Baltimore. I was impressed. This was my first exposure to the new wave of light rail transit lines being built in the U.S. In the past, I've ridden the Metro/subway/elevated lines in the D.C. area, the Baltimore area, the Philadelphia area, and Chicago. I've ridden the P&W light rail line in the western suburbs of Philadelphia.
I parked at the southern terminal near I-97 at Glen Burnie at the Cromwell Station, they had a huge park-and-ride lot there. I rode all the way to the northern terminal at Hunt Valley; the trip took about 1:05 hours. It cost $1.35 one-way, not bad at all. You get a ticket from a vending machine and ride on the "honor" system, subject to spot checks by transit personnel. It took about 20 minutes to reach the first downtown station on Howard Street, another 15 minutes along Howard Street, and about 30 minutes from there to Hunt Valley. It is about 24 miles with 30 stations. I did not have a chance to take the spurs to BWI Airport or Penn Station, although I saw the junctions. I'll do them next time.
The Central Light Rail Line construction was administered by the Mass Transit Administration (MTA) of the Maryland Department of Transportation. It is owned and operated by MTA.
I rode on Friday from about noon to about 3:00 p.m., and made a round trip. It was definitely different from a rapid rail transit line like the Baltimore or Washington Metro, a lower type of design. I'd estimate that the line was about 60% two-track and about 40% one-track. My perception, from standing at the front window the whole trip, is that there is enough space to eventually double-track the whole line, although the operation seemed surprisingly efficient as is; we only waited a couple times for a single-tracked section to clear, and only for a few minutes each time. Most of the line utilizes an old freight rail line, and it is evident that some freights still run, because I saw about 20 places where freight sidings still connect to the line. My educated guess is that the freight traffic is very light, and only operates at night when the light rail is not operating.
There were a number of grade crossings, but not a lot considering the length of the line, and most had crossing gates. At major thoroughfares, there was normally grade separation, often by carrying the line under an existing overpass. The speed seemed acceptably fast, about 45 to 50 mph cruising speeds (I saw the speedometer). A number of points had rather tight curves. Again, this is nothing like a heavy rail line, but it still runs a lot of trains, reasonably fast, and carries a lot of passengers. The trains had two cars, large light rail cars manufactured by ABB Traction Inc. of Elmira, NY. From what I understand, three-car trains are run at peak periods. They are electric powered via overhead catenary. The cars are comfortable and spacious.
I got a bunch of good pictures (not developed yet), and I will post about 6 on my website soon.
This light rail line is very interesting to me, because it is very similar to what is planned for the Norfolk-Virginia Beach line, with regards to using a little-used, mostly at-grade freight line, with single and double tracked sections, some new running on downtown streets, and very similar rolling stock. I got a glimpse of what the Norfolk-Virginia Beach line will look like. One difference is the fact that Tidewater Virginia topography is very flat, unlike the rolling terrain in many parts of the Baltimore area.
The last few miles on the northern end winds through about 4 tight (~15mph) right-angle turns on various streets. The Howard Street section is rather slow, with 5 stations, and the trains are subject to traffic lights just like the cars, and the trains don't seem to get priority. The trip on the harbor bridge under the I-395 viaduct was interesting, and I got a couple pictures of that. A long section north of the downtown winds through the Jones Falls Valley, paralleling the I-83 Jones Falls Expressway. You see a whole different perspective of a city from the rails, as compared to the expressway.
I definitely enjoyed it and I will do it again when I get a chance.
Author: Scott M. Kozel
Copyright 1998 - Scott M Kozel, RailroadInfo.Com
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