Baltimore’s Metro SubwayLink system resumed service on Wednesday morning with single-track service between five of its 14 stations after last week’s electrical fire in Owings Mills shut down operations for several days.
Single-track service, in which trains traveling in both directions of the system share one rail line, is carrying riders between the West Cold Spring and State Center stations as crews work to make track repairs.
The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) has completed a full inspection of the heavy rail system, but an MTA spokesperson told The Baltimore Banner that officials may not finish their investigation into the cause of the July 7 electrical fire for a couple of weeks.
“The agency appreciates our riders’ patience as we conducted a full inspection of the Metro Subway system and completed track repairs,” the Maryland Transit Administration said in a statement late Tuesday.
The shutdown caused headaches and delays for commuters who depend on the rapid transit system, which uses underground, elevated and surface-grade lines to link John Hopkins Hospital east of downtown with Owings Mills to the northwest, in Baltimore County.
Bakari Height, a public transportation advocate who relies on buses and subway trains to get around Baltimore, said the Metro Subway shutdown delayed his trip back to his home near Johns Hopkins Hospital on Tuesday night. Around 9:30 pm, he was waiting outside Charles Center for one of the temporary bus “bridges” set up to shuttle riders between Metro stops during the outage, but it never came.
“All I needed to go was two stops and I’m home,” said Height. He switched to waiting for another area bus line but said that bus arrived later than the MTA app indicated.
The incident represents the latest setback for a 15.4-mile rail line that has struggled to get back to pre-pandemic ridership — it carried 2.19 million riders in 2022. The line breaks down more frequently than similar systems across the country.
In early 2018, the entire Baltimore Metro system closed for a month after inspectors identified a need for emergency track repairs, according to The Baltimore Sun.
In 2021, the most recent year for which public data is available, only Atlanta’s subway system reported more major mechanical failures on its heavy rail system per train miles covered than the MTA, according to data from the Federal Transit Administration. The data set covers the 15 rail lines across the United States considered heavy rail, including the New York City subway, Boston’s T, Washington’s Metrorail, and Baltimore’s one-line Metro.
The Baltimore Metro experienced 23.3 major mechanical failures per 100,000 of rail miles covered in 2021, according to the FTA. Between 2015 and 2020, it averaged 38.8 and ranked last each of those six years.
“We know nationally that a lot of transit systems are behind on their ‘state of good repair’ needs, but it seems worse with the MTA,” said Brian O’Malley, president and CEO of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance. O’Malley described a “state of good repair” as what a transit system needs in order to operate safely and reliably.
A July 2022 MTA report estimated that it will take $5.1 billion to bring the entire transit system up to a state of good repair over the next decade, including $1.8 billion of deferred maintenance costs. The report estimates that Baltimore Metro will require more investment dollars than the bus or light rail systems.
MTA announced in July 2017 that it would invest $400.5 million to replace Metro’s rail car fleet with 78 “state-of-the-art” cars. O’Malley said the current fleet, in operation since Metro’s first ride in 1983, is at the absolute end of its lifespan.
According to the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board’s recent improvement plan, six of those 78 new rail cars will go into service by the end of 2024, with the rest slated to start making trips by the end of 2026.
Daniel Zawodny covers transportation for The Baltimore Banner as a corps member with Report For America, a national service organization that places emerging journalists with local newsrooms that cover underreported issues.