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The Metro Subway is a single-line rapid transit system serving the greater Baltimore area. Despite its name, less than half of the line is underground; most of the line outside of the central city is elevated or at grade.
The origins of the Metro Subway lie in a transit plan drawn up for the Baltimore area written in 1966 that envisioned six rapid transit lines radiating out from the city center. By the time this vision began to be translated into reality, construction costs in the United States had raised to the point of making transit construction prohibitively expensive, and there was less federal money available for transit projects than had been in the past. When the Metro Subway finally opened in 1983, it was only a single line, the "Northwest" line of the 1966 plan. Service was provided between Charles Center in downtown Baltimore and Reisterstown Road Plaza in the northwest section of the city. (A decade later, much of the "North" and "South" lines of that plan would come into existence as the Baltimore Light Rail.)
In 1987, an extension from Reisterstown Road Plaza to Owings Mills in Baltimore County was added, much of it running the median of I-795. In 1994 a further extension from Charles Center to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore City was also opened. This last extension was an extremely truncated version of the 1966 plan's "Northeast" line.
The current system is 15.2 miles (24.5 km) long, including 6.2 mi underground, 2.2 mi elevated, and 6.8 mi at grade.
Once the project was completed in 1994, the total cost for the Metro Subway was $1.392 billion.
The Metro Subway's route consists of a single line in a shape that can be described as an extremely lopsided "U". Trains head due south underground from Johns Hopkins Hospital, turn west as they pass under Baltimore's central business district, then north and ultimately northwest towards Owings Mills. The route leaves its tunnel northwest of Mondawmin station, entering an elevated structure that parallels Wabash Avenue and the Western Maryland Railroad. The route eventually leaves the older railroad right of way to enter the I-795 median, which it occupies all the way to the system's Owings Mills terminus.
Trains heading for Johns Hopkins Hospital are referred to as eastbound trains, while trains heading towards Owings Mills are said to be going west.
A trip from one end of the line to the other takes about half an hour. Headways range from 8 minutes during daytime peak to 22 minutes late at night. Trains run from 5 a.m. to midnight on weekdays, 6 a.m. to midnight on weekends.
The Metro Subway is operated by the Maryland Transit Administration. MTA fares are identical for the Metro Subway, the Light Rail, and local buses: a one-way trip costs $1.60, and does not provide for a transfer to another vehicle. Passengers must pass through a faregate in order to enter any Metro Subway station; small tickets similar to those used in the Paris Metro are used to pass through the entry gates. MTA daily, weekly, and monthly passes are also good on the Metro Subway. As of 2005, passengers with one of these passes must show it to a station attendant in order to enter the platform area; however, new magnetic swipe cards were introduced by the MTA for all such passes in 2006, and the Metro Subway faregates will soon all be updated to accept these passes -- only half have been upgraded since March of 2007, with the rest having fareboxes at the station attendant to swipe their passes. Automated ticket machines are available in all Metro Subway stations; as of March of 2007, however, half only sold the newer passes. Fare gate upgrades are reportedly slated to finish in 2007/2008.
In the early 1990s, fares varied based on distance, and passengers had to use a ticket to exit the station as well as enter it, as on systems like San Francisco's BART and the Washington Metro. But fares were soon made uniform throughout the line, and exit checking removed in 2005. With the newer fare gates at half the stations, exit pass checking is being restored.
Most Metro Subway stations are served by a number of MTA bus routes; some routes, whose route numbers are prefixed with the letter "M", were drawn up specifically to serve as feeders for the Metro Subway. There is no direct connection to the Light Rail or to MARC — a fact that may strike the passenger as a distinct oversight in planning. The Metro Subway's Lexington Market Station is a 200-yard walk from the Light Rail stop of the same name, and the State Center Station is about 1.5 blocks away from Light Rail's Cultural Center. In addition, MARC Penn Station is about a one-half mile walk from State Center, and MARC Camden Station is about five blocks from Lexington Market.
Stations and connecting services
- Owings Mills (M9 and M17 buses)
- Old Court (77 and M2 buses)
- Milford Mill (M3 and M8 buses)
- Reisterstown Plaza (27, M9, and M10 buses)
- Rogers Avenue (27, 33, 44, 51, 91, and M6 buses)
- West Cold Spring (33, 51, and 97 buses)
- Mondawmin (1, 5, 7, 16, 22, 51, 97, M1, M2 and M3 buses)
- Penn North (7, 13, 91, and M3 buses)
- Upton/Avenue Market (7 bus)
- State Center/Cultural Center (19, 21, 27, and 91 buses and Light Rail)
- Lexington Market (1, 5, 15, 19, 23, 27, and 91 buses and Light Rail)
- Charles Center (1, 3, 5, 8, 10, 11, 20, 23, 35, 36, 40, 64, and 91 buses)
- Shot Tower/Market Place (7, 10, 20, 23, and 40 buses)
- Johns Hopkins Hospital (5, 13, and 35 buses)
These cars were manufactured by the Budd/TransitAmerica Red Lion plant in Northeast Philadelphia. Most were delivered in 1983 with a supplementary set of essentially identical cars being purchased in 1986 for the line expansion. The cars, marketed by Budd as the Universal Transit Vehicle, are identical to those used on the Miami Metrorail because the two agencies built their systems at the same time and saved money by sharing a single order.
These cars were among the last railcars to be built by Budd before the firm shut down.
Trains draw power from the electric third rail. The cars are 75 feet (23 m) long, 10 feet (3.0 m) wide, and have a top speed of 70 mph (110 km/h). Cars are semi-permanently attached in married pairs, and 2-, 4- and 6-car trains are all seen on the line. Each car can hold up to 166 passengers (76 seated, 90 standing).
The fleet had a significant overhaul between 2002 and 2005. Seats were reupholstered, and the floors were replaced. External destination rollsigns were replaced with LED displays and internal systems that displayed, and train destinations and upcoming stop announcements were also installed.
The MTA currently owns 100 Metro Subway cars; approximately 54 are in use during peak weekday travel times.
While the current Metro Subway is an important part of Baltimore's transit picture, the prohibitive cost of building new rapid transit lines — particularly the sort of underground lines that would be necessary in a densely populated area — have clouded prospects for future expansion. As of 2005, the state of Maryland is considering a new transit line, dubbed the Green Line, that would begin at the Metro Subway's Johns Hopkins Hospital terminus and run to the northeast corner of the city. If this line were implemented as an extension of the existing line, the entire Metro Subway might ultimately be rebranded as the Green Line (it is already colored green on MTA maps).