Early-morning commuters faced delays after the Maryland Transit Administration replaced suspended light rail trains with shuttle buses.
Teresa Abrams, 59, cleans airplanes at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport overnight and was trying to get home after finishing her shift at 8 a.m. But she won’t get home until lunch now that the light rail trains are down.
”The shuttles are worse because they have to stop at every stop and take even longer than the trains already do,” Abrams said at the Camden Yards rail stop.
As a Hunt Valley resident, Abrams rode the light rail for years. She has since moved downtown, and it takes her 2 1/2 to three hours to get home Tuesday through Saturday.
”Anytime I get off work, it’s always a 42-minute wait just to get on the light rail. It’s taking even longer today.”
The Maryland Transit Administration announced Thursday afternoon that it was indefinitely suspending rail service due to mechanical issues. The agency said it needs to inspect its entire fleet of 53 railcars.
No timeline was given for when regular light rail service would resume.
“We’re taking action out of an abundance of caution, and in order to facilitate an expedited inspection and repair of the fleet,” MTA Administrator Holly Arnold said at an emergency press conference Thursday.
MTA is pulling about 30 buses off their regular routes to run as shuttles between light rail stations, the agency said.
The light rail line runs from Hunt Valley in Baltimore County south to Glen Burnie in Anne Arundel County, running through downtown. It’s been mired by service disruptions over the years, with a fire event Oct. 21 that revealed punctures in high-voltage conduits that connect railcars to their power source.
Arnold said Friday morning on X, formerly Twitter, “Our team is out this morning assisting riders with shuttle bus service, adding that shuttle bus service can be tracked.
She also said MTA and Alstom, the firm hired for maintenance on the railcars, “have been working nonstop on vehicle inspections and are beginning repairs.”
Speaking Friday on the WYPR radio program “Midday,” Arnold couldn’t say when service will be restored. She expects to have “a better sense” after inspections and repairs of the light rail get underway over the weekend.
“We do feel the urgency,” she said. “I understand how difficult this is for our riders.”
During the morning Friday, not many people took MTA up on its shuttle bus offer. Those who arrived at stations didn’t seem to know light rail service had been suspended.
Near the Lexington Market stop, transit riders opted for downtown CityLink buses or rode the city’s SubwayLink at North Eutaw and West Lexington streets.
At the Camden Yards stop, seven people waited aboard a northbound light rail shuttle bus. The majority of them got off at the Mount Vernon stop on Centre Street. No additional riders got on as the shuttle continued to the line’s end in Hunt Valley.
From Hunt Valley to Hampden, Brian Hawkins was the only passenger on the light rail shuttle in the early afternoon. The 70-year-old head chef uses the light rail as his primary mode of transportation for $2.20 per day.
He spent Friday riding the shuttles from BWI to Hunt Valley just to see how they would work. Hawkins lives downtown but rides the light rail to each of its ends to get to the restaurants where he works. He knows they run every 17 minutes.
”The biggest issue with this is going to be time. There’s no schedule for this yet, so timing these shuttles are imperative,” Hawkins said. “Hopefully, by Monday, everybody [system operators and riders] will have a better sense of how this is all going to work.”
Hawkins said he’s been riding the light rail since it was put in over the city’s old trolley tracks.
”I have never seen the whole fleet down like this. I can’t imagine how bad it’s going to be on Sunday,” Hawkins said, referring to the upcoming Ravens game.
Area leaders have expressed frustration at the rail shutdown.
“We’ve been in touch with the Moore Administration about this issue and have been working to identify workaround solutions for residents who rely on Light Rail – especially in Baltimore’s historically underserved communities – and ensure Light Rail services resume in a timely manner,” Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said in a statement.
“Thousands of Baltimoreans depend on the light rail to get to and from work, school, doctor’s appointments, and other crucial parts of life,” he said. “A prolonged suspension of services is simply unacceptable, and we will be doing everything in our power to ensure MTA addresses the necessary repairs as quickly as possible.”
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said, “The safety and well-being of our residents is a top priority. It is critical that the state move quickly to address the safety concerns and restore light rail service for our residents who rely on it.”
This story may be updated.