MTA offering bus bridge for light rail users after sinkhole swallows part of Convention Center stop

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Photo by Brian Seel/@cylussec on Twitter (used with permission)

With no timeline yet for reviving light rail service downtown, where part of a platform was gobbled up yesterday by a sinkhole stemming from a water main break in the Howard Street Tunnel, the Maryland Transit Administration is providing buses to shuttle passengers between seven stops from Camden Yards up to North Avenue.

The agency announced the free bus bridge this morning after suspending service between those two points, which it attributed to the water main break and nearby road closures.

“The safety of our riders is our first priority,” Sean Adgerson, the MTA’s chief operations officer, said in a statement. “We look forward to the Baltimore City Department of Public Works promptly completing these repairs, so we can restore full service quickly and minimize the impact on our riders.”

DPW Director Rudy Chow said yesterday the agency has no prediction for when the area will be all fixed up. Crews are working to make sure the area is safe first before restoration can begin at the damaged Convention Center stop, he said.

DPW spokesman Jeff Raymond said this morning that crews were working overnight to prepare for approaching heavy storms. A National Weather Service alert warns of “torrential rainfall” that “may lead to totals exceeding 2 inches in a short period of time.”

Raymond said their prep work included installing three large pumps with a series of pipes to divert water away from the sinkhole and into other storm drains. They’ve also built a temporary “berm” using cold patch asphalt to divert rain pouring in from nearby roads, and have laid a temporary mixture called “flowable fill” to plug up the sinkhole until the rain passes, he said. “We’re trying as much as possible to keep excessive water out of there.”

A new complication arose overnight. Raymond confirmed a leak was discovered in a tunnel used by CSX, which crews traced to a main beneath Howard Street “about 100 feet north of Baltimore Street,” he said. The agency is coordinating repairs on that with the MTA because it’s happening underneath the light rail tracks.

“We don’t believe it’s related to what happened earlier this week,” he noted.

This whole mess down on W. Pratt Street began Monday morning, when a 12-inch water main broke inside the Howard Street Tunnel and sent a deluge of water flooding out onto the train tracks outside M&T Bank Stadium. Light rail service was unaffected that morning, but MARC train and CSX freight rail service were suspended as a result. The water receded after crews shut off the broken main.

In the aftermath, a Department of Transportation employee working on an electrical conduit underground was severely injured when a manhole collapsed on him. He remained hospitalized as of Wednesday.

Light rail service was suspended Monday afternoon after the underground collapse, but the effects on the transit system worsened Wednesday when the sinkhole emerged, swallowing up part of the Convention Center station platform, including a handicap-accessible ramp.

Chow said yesterday that DPW “knew that area was compromised,” and crews had been working at the time to remove the ramp after identifying underground voids caused by Monday’s flooding. They’ve been using ground-penetration radar to look for other such spots, he said.

For the Convention Center stop repairs, Raymond said DPW itself won’t be restoring the infrastructure, but will be working to make sure underground utilities and roads are safe so state crews can then come in and repair the track and overhead wiring.

The whole area indefinitely remains a spot to avoid for drivers. Howard Street is closed between Lombard and Conway streets downtown, as is Pratt Street from Paca Street to Sharp Street.

Chow said CSX was doing test runs yesterday and hopes to return to normal service. A company spokesperson said late Thursday that “currently, CSX is moving limited traffic through the Howard Street Tunnel and are working to restore normal train operations as soon as possible.”

A Port of Baltimore spokesman said the interruption in operations for CSX “hasn’t had much of an effect on us,” since most of the containers handled by the port are “are brought in and taken out by truck. We do not do a lot of container business by rail.”

The MTA said this morning that it “appreciates our riders’ patience during this time.” Agency spokesman Paul Shepard said the bus bridges will be in place for light rail riders “until regular service is restored.”

This story has been updated.

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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in CityLab, Slate, Baltimore City Paper, DCist and elsewhere.
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