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$28M maglev grant for D.C.-Baltimore may yield project’s true cost

Federal funds awarded to study building a superconducting magnetic levitation train line between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., is a big win for private firms backing the project.

This weekend state officials announced the Federal Railroad Administration had granted $27.8 million to start studying and planning how to build a line through one of the nation’s most populated transit corridors. The funds will now be directed to Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail. The state only operated as a conduit for the funds, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Transportation said, but the state will work as an administrator on the grant.

Washington-based advocacy firm The Northeast Maglev and Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail, the developer for the project, have been the major advocates for the high-speed train line. The project would propel trains at more than 300 miles per hour, cutting trips between the two cities to 15 minutes.

“While the SCMAGLEV project is a privately-led infrastructure initiative, ambitious endeavors of this scale require close cooperation from the public sector. We appreciate the support from the State of Maryland and the federal government for providing assistance to further explore deploying maglev technology in the Baltimore-Washington region,” Wayne Rogers, chairman and chief executive officer of The Northeast Maglev and chairman of Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail said in an emailed statement. “This funding is a step toward making 15-minute trips between Baltimore and D.C. the new norm, and will usher public transportation by rail into the 21st century.”

It’s expected to cost about $10 billion to build the line. The Japan Bank for International Cooperation has pledged to subsidize $5 billion. The Northeast Maglev works very closely with The Central Japan Railway Co., which has agreed to waive fees and license its technology with the hope it would benefit from greater maglev development in the U.S.

This September, The Northeast Maglev and Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail celebrated the opening of a Baltimore headquarters at 6 S. Gay St. downtown. The event was used to show off some of the political and private clout lined up behind the project, and was attended by former Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle and Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, both of whom serve on The Northeast Maglev advisory board.

Gov. Larry Hogan became a supporter of the trains after riding one while on a trip to Japan this summer. But the budget-conscious governor has always emphasized his support for the program was due in large part to the project being a private project.

The project has critics who question the expense of a train line, because of its unique track technology, can’t connect with other rail networks. There are also lingering doubts about the cost to build such a line and how much disruption a project, which would mostly run through a tunnel, would cause to nearby neighborhoods.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx was in Japan this weekend to ride a maglev train and study the feasibility of bringing the technology to the United States. Foxx, in an interview with Bloomberg News on Monday in Tokyo, said the study will be a big help in determining how expensive the project will really be.

“One of the things this study helps us do is to figure out what the true cost picture of maglev is,” Foxx said. “To this point most of the estimates have been back-of-the-envelope, and there needs to be some rigor applied to that under our study models.”

About Adam Bednar

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