Baltimore Maglev

Omar Khatib, JHU:

Early this spring, newly elected Republican Maryland Governor Larry Hogan axed the Red Line project, an East-West rail project slated to begin in late 2015. The rail line was meant to run on the East from the Social Security Office through the Inner Harbor, Harbor East, Fells Point, and Canton, and all the way west to the Johns Hopkins Bayview Campus. The project, which had a $3 billion price tag, had $900 million of approved federal funding along with $300 million allotted from Baltimore City and the County. [1] Moreover, over $450 million had already gone into planning, environmental studies, publics meetings, and design over the past decade. While Hogan citing high costs of the project due to tunneling that would have to occur under Harbor East and Fells Point, “Baltimore has long been handicapped by a transit system that many residents see as second-rate.” [2] With a subway system that is hampered by low ridership due to its single line, a north-south light rail line that slows down to a crawl as it runs through streets downtown, and an often-unreliable bus system, the city is in great need of an improved transit system.

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On September 20th, Northeast Maglev, a firm who has plans to build a high-speed rail line from Baltimore to Washington DC that would be a 15 minute ride, opened its newest offices in downtown Baltimore. [3] The privately run and operated line between DC and Baltimore would be the first step in an eventual line covering the entire Northeast Corridor, reaching Philadelphia, New York City, and eventually Boston. The super conducting maglev is a Japanese-pioneered technology, which allows trains, through magnetic levitation, to glide at immense speeds, up to 374 MPH, on a cushion of air. In June of this year, Governor Hogan along with his Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn, traveled to Japan to ride on the maglev test track while on a trade mission in Asia. Hogan called the ride an “incredible experience,” while Rahn stated it had “to resemble the sense that people had when they first rode on a 707 Boeing for the first time, going from prop planes to a jet.”[4]

Upon his return Hogan applied for $28 million in federal funds meant to push environmental and feasibility studies for the Baltimore-DC line. While Hogan cited the tunneling costs of the Red Line as its main flaw, Wayne Rogers, the executive chief of Northeast Maglev, has stated that much of the Baltimore-DC line would be implemented using underground tunnels so as to prevent constant turns in the line, which would impede the train’s ability to reach its highest speeds. Costs of the project are estimated to be close to $12 billion, but the willingness of Japanese interests to get the project going is exhibited by the Japanese Central Bank and Central Japan Railway’s pledge to subsidize close to half the costs via loans.

The main promise of the Maglev is the immense transit time saving it would provide to commuters. Using the current technology, the trip from Baltimore to BWI would be 8 minutes, with the full duration to DC being only 15 minutes, as compared to the often two-hour car rides during rush hour many currently endure. Additional routes from Baltimore to Philadelphia would be a 25 minute ride, and most notably the trip Washington DC to New York City in just under an hour. Comparatively, the current rail systems, the Amtrak and the Acela, cover the 226 miles from DC to New York in 3 and half hours and 2 hours and 40 minutes respectively. The travel times provided by superconducting Maglev would be unparalleled not only in this country, but around the world. While the technology to get the project built has been around for decades, there have been countless political issues based on corporate interests and interference with future profits with other rail companies and proponents of continued development of highway infrastructure that have hindered Maglev’s ability to get the ball rolling past feasibility studies.

Nevertheless, a renewed interest in the project is certainly a step in the right direction, with the need for groundbreaking transit infrastructure growing year by year. Most recently, billionaire founder and CEO of Under Armour Kevin Plank, at a celebration of the opening of the Northeast Maglev office, stated, “Lets build this thing. Lets get the red tape out of the way. This is a great project for the region, for the area, for the state, for the Northeast Corridor. Please do anything you can, tell anybody that will listen.” [5] Although actual construction of a project of this magnitude is at the minimum a decade away, the beginning of a shift of consensus of what the State of Maryland needs in terms of its transit is starting now. The city of Baltimore desperately needs massive infrastructure projects to not only bring about jobs, but spur future economic growth. To be able to get from downtown Baltimore to Washington DC in less time than it currently takes to get from downtown Baltimore to Towson would change the shape of this city for the better.

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