- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 2004

BALTIMORE (AP) — The city’s rail link with Baltimore-Washington International Airport will be severed for seven months when the state shuts down the light rail line south of Camden Yards.

The shutdown, which will run from Feb. 28 until October, will allow the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) to add a second track to single-track portions of the line. But it will inconvenience thousands of commuters, and some Orioles and Ravens fans will be forced to find different routes to games.

The light rail line initially was built with a single track in most places to save money, but single tracks have been blamed for contributing to less frequent trains and persistent low ridership. About four miles of the line south of Camden Yards are a single track.

To help those who board south of Camden Yards — 60 percent of the light rail’s 27,000 daily riders — shuttle buses will stop at all stations along the nine-mile section of closed rail. Officials hope riders will use the buses instead of giving up on mass transit and switching to cars.

Despite inconveniences, the shutdown will allow the state to finish double-tracking the southern half of the line five months ahead of schedule.

“We believe it’s just better to get it over with,” MTA Administrator Robert Smith said. “We want to do this as thoroughly and efficiently as possible.”

Mr. Smith said extra shuttles will be on hand before and after baseball games to take passengers to and from the ballpark. The MTA says as many as 2,300 persons take light rail each Orioles game from stops south of Camden Yards.

The southern portion of the line will be finished in October. Afterward, officials will turn their attention to the northern section, where about six miles are single track.

Officials are considering shutting down the northern section next year in an attempt to accelerate that project, which is expected to finish in March 2006.

The light rail has struggled to find a ridership and is heavily dependent on state subsidy. Passenger fares account for just 23 percent of the operating cost, with the rest coming from the state.

“The ridership on light rail is something we clearly are not satisfied with,” Mr. Smith said. “I think we can do a better job of marketing the service itself.”

The entire double-tracking project is expected to cost $153 million. The state paid for the 30-mile light rail, which runs from Hunt Valley to Glen Burnie and BWI and opened in April 1992, without federal funding.

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