The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Light Rail Shutdown

Dec 11, 2023

At a 5:30 PM news conference on Thursday, December 7, Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) officials announced that Baltimore’s light rail line would be shut down at midnight that night. This light rail line normally transports thousands of riders every day to work, school, medical appointments, and other crucial parts of their lives. Shuttle buses were supposed to be available at all light rail stops to transport light rail riders. But they got people to their destinations later than usual.

The light rail shutdown was prompted by electrical problems on some light rail cars. On October 21 a high-voltage electrical short caused an electrical explosion and fire on a light rail car that injured a passenger. During the shutdown, inspections were supposed to be done on all 53 light rail cars and repairs made as needed. When at least six cars are inspected and repaired, light rail service is supposed to resume on a limited basis. MTA said it did not know when this would be accomplished.

Officials say the light rail cars are between 21 and 34 years old. They were all supposed to have had a mid-life overhaul after about 15 years of service. But maintenance was deferred, and it wasn’t until 2014 that overhauls actually began, after MTA awarded a 150 million dollar contract to rail car manufacturer Alstom to make needed improvements on all 53 cars. Now overhaul work is still underway even though many cars are past their complete replacement dates according to industry standards.

“The reason we are having this service shutdown in the first place is because (mid-life overhaul) was deferred so long,” said Eric Norton, director of policy and programs for the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance. Norton says federal data shows that Baltimore’s light rail line breaks down more frequently than similar lines in other cities.

Alston itself has also been criticized for problems with their work. A recent report from the Amtrak Office of Inspector General said that all the trains produced by Alstom for Amtrak have had defects including spontaneously shattering windows, leaking hydraulic tilting systems and corrosion between cars caused by water drainage problems.

So, there’s plenty of blame here to go around regarding MTA’s suspension of light rail service in Baltimore—from MTA officials to Alstom. But they aren’t going to pay for it—ordinary light rail riders and Maryland taxpayers are.