Posts Tagged ‘Light Rail’

The Light Rail

May 21, 2018

While I was going to college in New Jersey, my mother moved into a house over in the Woodberry neighborhood of Baltimore. Her reasoning in picking the specific house she picked was that it was on the Light Rail line. Baltimore’s Light Rail was built in the early nineties to provide mass transit for the citizens of residents vaguely west of the center corridor of the city. As somebody who lived fairly near his high school, I never needed the Light Rail. I could hitch a ride with one of my parents or I could walk if it came to it. So I never really gave it much mind until I came home from college one summer and it was only a few blocks away. My mother was taking it to work so her sons could borrow her car. Still, I never really rode it. I also rarely rode the buses as I preferred to walk if I could not drive and I hate driving.

When I worked for the Kevin Kamenetz campaign in 2010, I was often working next to the Floors, Inc. warehouse up in Hunt Valley throughout the summer. After a while, I did not want to drive and I would instead ride the train up to the McCormick spice factory. I would eat my breakfast as I walked past McCormick which was a bad idea. Eating applesauce while the air around is full of the smell of paprika is a bad idea. Whatever I was eating mingled with the flavor of whatever seasoning they were working on that morning. It was kind of a weird way to start long days of physical labor. However, I got really used to waiting for and riding the train up and down the line. In addition, the cars were always air-conditioned, shady places to sit while I rolled toward the north part of the county. It was at this point that my eyes were opened to how useful the light rail could be.

Now that my day job is in downtown Baltimore, for the first time, I started purchasing monthly passes to the Light Rail (which was recently renamed the Light RailLink). Now that I have been riding almost daily, I have started to get a feel for what the Light Rail is like. The trains have a layout as follows: There are two ‘cars’ linked together by a flexible walkway between them. Each car has wide doors on either side in the center and two smaller doors on each end. The trains having doors on each side is to accommodate platforms on both sides. However, most platforms I have encountered are all on one side. The only exception I can think of off the top of my head is North Avenue station. Maybe the northern end of the line at Hunt Valley. Anyway, the inside of the trains is filled with hard plastic chairs with cushioning in pairs. There are pipes all around to grab onto if you are standing.

Most of the time when I get on, there are people sitting in all of the window seats which leaves a lot of open seats in the aisle. Being the introvert that I am, I only sit down when there are tons of open seats which is mostly only on the weekend. I also rarely sit down because inevitably some elder person will board the train and I want that seat to be open for them and their tired legs. So the way I usually experience the train is on my feet. You really notice the skill of each driver if you are standing on a train. The tracks in many places in the city are not straight and instead curve around existing structures and traffic patterns. Standing on the train there is often little warning when the train will slow or turn and each driver hits these moments with different momentum. Holding onto something is essential to stay standing.

I have also noticed that there are basically four reactions that people have when they get on the train and see that there are no seats. The first is the least likely which is the doors open and somebody decides to wait for the next train. Sometimes, this is necessary as trains can be absolutely crammed full of people after sporting events. The second is a person will find a spot to stand, grab onto something and stand still until their stop. This is what I do and I find it is the most ideal choice. The third choice is when a person is in denial that there are no seats and will make people move out of the way so they can walk the train in search of a seat. This always feels pointless to me. Finally, there are the people who sit down on the steps at the doors which is completely counterproductive. The best train rides are when everybody just chills out and stays put.

So are the trains safe? Well, as with most things, yes and no. I have ridden the trains without incident a lot. First, make sure you buy a ticket because Maryland Transit Authority cops board the train and random stations and at random intervals to check everyone’s ticket. On Free Comic Book Day, I finally saw somebody actually get arrested for the first time for trying to use an old ticket and claiming the machine had printed the wrong ticket. Second, most people on the train just want to get to their destination so everybody keeps to themselves. I have never seen an altercation on the train and most people just assume they are going to be bumped into on the train. The worst I have seen is a man who started a loud sort of sermon on the train and seeing somebody that unstable is always a little worrying. Third, you have to watch yourself around the trains themselves. The week before last somebody was hit and killed by a Light Rail train which briefly caused chaos in Baltimore. So be safe out there but enjoy the utility of the train.

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