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Maglev builds momentum despite doubts

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan expressed enthusiasm for maglev technology after taking a ride on a maglev train in Japan during a trade trip this summer. The state has also applied for a nearly $28 million federal grant to help study the feasibility of building the line. (Illustration by Maximilian Franz / The Daily Record)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan expressed enthusiasm for maglev technology after taking a ride on a maglev train in Japan during a trade trip this summer. The state has also applied for a nearly $28 million federal grant to help study the feasibility of building the line. (Illustration by Maximilian Franz / The Daily Record)

A proposal for a magnetic-levitation train connecting Baltimore and Washington D.C. is gaining traction, but questions about the feasibility of a private effort to introduce the technology in the corridor remain.

The Northeast Maglev, a private company that promotes the technology, is scheduled to celebrate the opening of its Baltimore headquarters on Monday. The celebration will attract big names that serve on the company’s advisory board such as former Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle and Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank.

The office opening follows Gov. Larry Hogan expressing enthusiasm for the technology after taking a ride on a maglev train in Japan during a trade trip this summer. The state has also applied for a nearly $28 million federal grant to help study the feasibility of building the line. The Federal Railroad Administration did not respond to an inquiry regarding the grant’s status.

“The Hogan administration is absolutely open for business and is supporting this private sector led project,” said Erin Henson, a spokeswoman for the governor.

Money pledged

The Japan Bank for International Cooperation has pledged to subsidize $5 billion of the $10 billion it’s expected to cost to build a line proposed by Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail LLC. Train operator Central Japan Railway Co. has said it would waive licensing fees for using its technology. The largess comes with hopes the company would be selected to operate the rail after it’s built.

Maglev trains are initially propelled on wheels, and once it gets up to speed electromagnets cause the vehicle to hover over the lines removing velocity-sapping friction. The trains can travel more than 300 miles per hour and would cut the time of the congested 40-mile trip between the two cities to 15 minutes. That’s about 30 minutes shorter than it takes on an express MARC train between the cities. In April, a maglev train on a test track in Japan broke a world speed record when it reached 375 miles per hour.

Obstacles remain

Despite the momentum, there are still major obstacles to building the line. The biggest challenge being the cost for just a line between Baltimore and Washington D.C. Current plans for the train involve building a tunnel for the train to run under one of the most populous corridors in the nation. There’s also concern that without a connection to New York or Philadelphia the interest in using the line may not suffice. Maryland twice before — once in the early 1990s and again over a decade ago — considered pursuing maglev but those projects never developed.

Andy Kunz, president and CEO of the U.S. High Speed Rail Association, said maglev has positives and negatives in comparison to traditional high-speed rail. It’s not compatible with existing rail and because it needs its own independent infrastructure, the trains can’t be used as lines are built incrementally. While maglev isn’t the answer to the nation’s high-speed rail deficit, Kunz believes the technology could play a role in building a broader high-speed rail network.

“We don’t rule out maglev because in certain corridors it could be a very fast, very high capacity system. It’s just harder to implement, it’s more expensive and that’s just where we stand on it,” Kunz said.

 

 


About Adam Bednar

Adam Bednar covers real estate and development for The Daily Record.