MD: Maryland light rail: What's changed post-suspension and what's to come

Jan. 12, 2024
The Maryland Transit Administration did not give a time frame when making the suspension announcement for safety reasons but resumed light rail services about two weeks later.

The unexpected shutdown of Maryland's light rail system last month cut many commuters and sports fans off from downtown Baltimore, and left many with questions. The Maryland Transit Administration did not give a time frame when making the suspension announcement for safety reasons but resumed light rail services about two weeks later.

Now, here's what to know about the suspension, the resumption of services and how it's affecting potential future projects.

Why was the light rail suspended?

The suspension, which lasted from Dec. 8 to Dec. 23, was due to safety concerns.

Courtney Mims, a spokesperson for the MTA said in an email that the administration discovered a "potential for a punctured electrical conduit" on its light rail vehicles during an inspection. It decided to suspend services "out of an abundance of caution and to facilitate an expedited inspection of the fleet vehicles," Mims said.

The light rail experienced three smoke events due to issues with inter-car connecting cables that resulted in minor injuries during a four-month period in 2023, according to the MTA.

"We discovered that high voltage conduits on our vehicles have been punctured," Holly Arnold, MTA administrator, said at a Dec. 7 news conference. "This was discovered as a result of inspections following a fire event Oct. 21. We had initially anticipated that it just be the one car from the inspections we've been doing. We did some visual inspections and have determined that over the weekend it is a more systemic issue."

What did the inspection of the fleet entail?

During the two-week suspension of service, the MTA inspected every light rail vehicle for any electrical conduit damage, the administration said. It found 28 vehicles with conduit damage that could've led to potential electrical failure, smoke events or fires, and each vehicle had its inter-car connector replaced.

The repairs were completed by Alstom, an international railway transportation company.

"After repairs were complete, the documentation was reviewed and certified by Alstom, MTA Engineering, MTA Safety, and our State Safety Oversight Agency before the railcar was released for service," the MTA spokesperson said in an email to The Baltimore Sun.

How much did the repairs cost?

The MTA spokesperson said the cost of the overhaul is unknown, as an overall restoration process is still underway.

"We expect to have a better picture of revenue lost in January once all our numbers have been reported," she said. "Our focus has been on completing the work as quickly as possible and restoring service safely."

The decision to suspend the services came as MTA was undergoing a $160 million overhaul of the light rail service. Additionally, news of the suspension came two days after the Department of Transportation announced $3.3 billion in proposed budget cuts.

Are all routes back in service?

Yes. The light rail is made up of 33 stations on routes from Hunt Valley in Baltimore County through BWI Marshall Airport in Anne Arundel County.

How have riders been affected?

The spokesperson for the MTA said the rider experience has not changed as a result of the renovations.

The light rail typically has 10,000 riders daily, including commuters and fans who want to access Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium.

During the suspension, the Maryland Department of Transportation provided extra buses for commuters.

Jennifer Davis, of Baltimore, said Friday she's been riding the light rail to work for about two months. She said the suspension didn't affect her much because her route is fairly straightforward. She believes the light rail is overall safe and reliable.

"There's been no problem since I have been riding it," Davis said.

Crystal Morgan, of Baltimore, also uses the light rail to commute but said she has seen a change.

"They take longer than they used to," Morgan said.

The Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, an activist organization focused on improving transit within the state, congratulated the MTA in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, on resuming the light rail.

"Riders need service they can rely on," the alliance wrote.

Is the MTA expecting to suspend the light rail again?

The MTA spokesperson said the administration used the two-week suspension to complete necessary work to avoid future disruptions. However, maintaining the service does require occasional suspensions of portions of the line.

"As projects arise, we will communicate those details and impacts to the public," Mims told The Sun.

Baltimore Sun reporter Tony Roberts contributed to this article.

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PUBLISHED: January 10, 2024 at 10:34 a.m.| UPDATED: January 11, 2024 at 6:55 p.m.