No one will ever accuse Wayne Rogers of being a pessimist.
Rogers, chairman of Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail, which wants to build a magnetic levitation train that travels 300 mph and moves passengers between the two cities in 15 minutes, believes the project could break ground in as little as three to four years.
“In a long-term project it can be hard to see short-term milestones,” Rogers said, contending that the project, which was received with such fanfare last year, is making progress toward becoming reality.
The Northeast Maglev, an advocacy group which Rogers is also chairman and CEO, and Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail reached several milestones last year.
First Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail, with Maryland serving as a conduit, was awarded a $27.8 million grant from the Federal Railroad Administration for pre-construction planning and engineering analysis.
The same company was also awarded a railroad franchise from the state that had previously belonged to the Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis Electric Railroad Co. abandoned in 1935. The companies also opened office space in a converted firehouse in downtown Baltimore.
Now, with an additional $2 million pledged last month by the Japan government, the company is starting to plan the route, assess potential environmental impacts and eventually prepare for public meetings about the train route. Despite what he called a mammoth amount of work ahead, Rogers is optimistic the project could be seeking approval from the federal Surface Transportation Board in as little as two years, clearing the way for work to begin. Work on issues such as environmental impact as well as route planning would happen concurrently, which should result in shovels in the ground quicker.
Initial estimates put the project’s price tag at $10 billion, but Rogers said its true cost won’t be known until there are more solid answers about the train’s route.
“What we need to know first, ‘What are the details of the project as approved?’” Rogers said.
The Japan Bank for International Cooperation has pledged $5 billion for the project. The Central Japan Railway Co. has also waived fees to license the maglev technology in hopes of expanding demand for the technology in the U.S.
Rogers also brushed off concerns the federal government may not be eager to work on a Maryland mass transit project after Gov. Larry Hogan turned down federal money to build the now-scrapped $2.9 billion Red Line light-rail project in Baltimore. Rogers pointed out that this project is different from the Red Line in that it’s being advocated by a private firm that will leverage private-sector investment to make the project happen.
He also dismissed concerns from some high-speed rail advocates who don’t believe maglev trains are the right investment.
Concerns about maglev stem from its need for completely new infrastructure that’s not compatible with existing rail. Rogers focused on the benefits of maglev, saying the line would be a major boon for Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. He predicted the train could have passengers from the airport to Baltimore and Washington in five and eight minutes, respectively.
Still, the project — even if it’s able to stick to the timetable Rogers said he believes is realistic — feels like it’s moving too slow, Rogers said.
“A private developer always thinks (a project’s progress is) slower than he likes,” he said.