• No plans to extend Baltimore Light Rail

  • Discussion pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Discussion pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Moderator: therock

  by RailVet
http://www.hometownglenburnie.com/vault ... /02-22.HTM

Light load
By GRANT HUANG Staff Writer / Maryland Gazette

Jim Fitzgerald decided enough was enough when pump prices topped $3 a gallon in April.

The Ferndale resident ditched his car and started taking the state's light rail train from Cromwell Station in Glen Burnie to his job as an accountant in Timonium.

"I'm on a budget just like everybody else," Mr. Fitzgerald said. "Three dollars was the breaking point I set for myself."

But 15 years after the light rail began service in Anne Arundel County, state transportation planners admit they're not fully satisfied by the results. The system, which runs from Glen Burnie to Hunt Valley in Baltimore County, is just beginning to recover from a 30 percent drop in ridership that began in 2004, when track upgrades closed several stations for two years.

Despite record gas prices and growth from the upcoming military base realignment, the Maryland Transit Administration has no plans to expand light rail to reach more potential riders. Instead, the agency is hoping to tap into the mentality of commuters like Mr. Fitzgerald with a new marketing campaign.

"We're using radio and billboards in the next couple of weeks to say, 'Hey, if you're tired of paying too much for gas, try public transit,' " said Henry Kay, MTA deputy administrator for planning and engineering. "We want people to think about how much they can save."

But so far, it seems that Mr. Fitzgerald is one of a very few county commuters switching to mass transit because of pain at the pump - even the switch saves him about $25 a week.

Early Wednesday morning, the light rail train departing Cromwell Station picked up only 20 passengers at its county stops, with the majority - 60 or so - coming aboard from stations in Baltimore County.

"I don't really see more people riding, not from the (county)," said Jerome Francis of Glen Burnie, who rides to a janitorial job in Baltimore by light rail and bus. "It's convenient for me, because I don't have a car - I don't got to worry about gas prices."

High as they are, gas prices still aren't packing a big enough financial wallop to discourage driving, said Jane Welch, a retired Linthicum resident headed downtown for some sightseeing.

"It's $3.05 or $3.10 around here," she said. "Maybe if it was $3.30 or $3.50 like in Baltimore or Annapolis, people would change."

Convenience is one thing people are willing to pay a premium for, Mr. Kay said.

"If you have a car in your garage, you're what we call a choice rider," he said. "People with a car in their garage are willing to pay for gas and parking so they can run on their own schedule, listen to their own music and so on. For any transit agency, that's a tough customer."

Before the 2004 construction project began, annual weekday ridership hovered around 7 million, dropping to a low of 4.3 million in 2005. After the stations reopened last year, ridership went up to 5.4 million, with projections going up to 7 million at the end of this year.

Ballpark riders

Though MTA gave equal consideration to Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties when it began building the light rail system in the early 1990s, only seven of its 33 stops are in Anne Arundel.

"We always saw Anne Arundel commuters as being a really important market," Mr. Kay said. "But the system was built on existing railroad ... at the time, it wasn't feasible to run it down to Annapolis."

As a result, he admitted, the county ridership consists more of leisure passengers off to an Orioles game than daily commuters.

By the mid-1990s, MTA considered adding another mile of track from Cromwell Station to the intersection of Baltimore Annapolis Boulevard and Ritchie Highway. The idea was canned when faced with vigorous community opposition.

"If we couldn't even get that far, it didn't seem feasible to consider additional (county expansions)," Mr. Kay said.

Today, there are no active plans to expand light rail lines, with one exception. The state agency has a preliminary "yellow line" expansion proposal that would extend light rail from Cromwell Station to Arundel Mills mall, then across Route 100 to Columbia.

But the yellow line is part of a 40-year strategy that is little more than a concept. The transportation demands expected to accompany thousands of jobs moving to the region through military base realignment hasn't changed that.

"We have lots of ideas about ways to meet the travel demands from BRAC, but it's all related to MARC and local bus service … but not really light rail," Mr. Kay said.

With expansion lines virtually out of the question, MTA's best shot at improving ridership will come from tweaking routes, train arrival times and fares, Mr. Kay said.

Experts say that's simply not enough to convince county commuters to join Mr. Fitzgerald.

"The light rail is just one line, so it's not very well-connected to other parts of the state's mass transit system," said Dr. Kelly J. Clifton, a researcher at the National Center for Smart Growth at the University of Maryland.

"We don't have the density of destinations to make light rail efficient. I don't think it's a practical, viable alternative to people."

She said the state should invest in more projects like the plan to extend Metro Rail's green line from Greenbelt to Fort George G. Meade, where up to 20,000 jobs are expected through BRAC shifts.

County government can also help by developing planning and zoning programs that would place homes and offices within reasonable walking distance of rail stations, she said.

"So much of our urban environment is structured towards the car. Our cities aren't built to efficiently use mass transit," Dr. Clifton said.

Still, the biggest obstacle might be psychological: Americans are loathe to give up the convenience and freedom of the open road, even when they have to pay more for gas.

"In general, I think Americans are fairly insensitive to the price of gas," Dr. Clifton said. "Oh, we'll complain about it, but we see very little behavior modification. We're very entrenched in using our cars."

  by gprimr1
It's a shame that it isn't possible to run express trains. I wonder if ridership from south-north and north-south would increase if there were station skips.

  by BaltOhio
Considering that the headway at the extreme ends of all the lines (Cromwell, BWI, Hunt Valley) is half-hourly, and 15 minutes on the trunk sections, it shouldn't be much of a problem to squeeze in an express run or two.

Originally, headways were 15 minutes on all lines, lengthened to 18 minutes after the BWI branchwas opened and equipment was short. Now equipment is sufficient and track capacity greatly increased, but service has gotten steadily worse.