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Maglev backers sign labor deal, add political clout

North America's Building Trades Unions President Sean McGarvey and Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail Vice Chairman Jeff Hirschberg sign an agreement spelling out maglev backer's commitment to using union labor to build the line. (Photo by Adam Bednar)

North America’s Building Trades Unions President Sean McGarvey and Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail Vice Chairman Jeff Hirschberg sign an agreement spelling out maglev backer’s commitment to using union labor to build the line. (Photo by Adam Bednar)

A competition between two technologies vying to provide high-speed transportation between Baltimore and Washington could pit old-school organized labor against futurist entrepreneur Elon Musk.

Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail and North America’s Building Trade Unions held a ceremonial signing of a memorandum of understanding on Thursday at the B&O Railroad Museum in west Baltimore. The agreement mandates contractors building the organization’s proposed superconducting magnetic levitation train line provide apprenticeship readiness programs to train local residents and hire union labor.

“That isn’t exactly the norm from the private sector across the United States. So the folks who are running maglev are committed, not only to building this project, but to making sure that people get an opportunity to join the middle class through the training, and the opportunity to work on this project all across the line that the project is going to go through,” said Sean McGarvey, president, North America’s Building Trades Unions.

News of the project’s agreement between maglev backers and organized labor comes roughly two weeks after Musk’s The Boring Co. was granted a permit from the state to start burrowing beneath the Baltimore-Washington Parkway between Hanover and Baltimore.

Musk, the entrepreneur behind electric car brand Tesla and spacecraft firm SpaceX, envisions building a pneumatic train system that could move riders up to 700 miles per hour connecting Washington and New York. Gov. Larry Hogan via posts to social media accounts has made it clear he’s impressed with hyperloop’s potential.

Meanwhile, maglev backers have been toiling in the state for years acquiring a railroad franchise and opening an office in downtown Baltimore. The project, which aims to eventually whisk passenger between Washington and New York at more than 300 miles per hour using existing Japanese technology, is roughly 30 percent of the way through a federally funded environmental study. It has narrowed its potential routes to three options and could begin construction by 2019.

Jeff Hirschberg, vice chairman, Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail, painted the agreement as an “economic security issue” for the company. Announcing the use of union labor, he said, is not part of a larger effort to line up political backing for maglev now that hyperloop has emerged as a potential competitor.

“The projects are completely different. That’s a state project. I think the governor likes competition that’s why he did it. But nonetheless this technology is ready, it’s received safety approval from the Japanese government, it’s being built out in revenue service now and it’s ready for deployment to the United State now,” Hirschberg said.

Some leaders believe the agreement between Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail and North America’s Building Trade Unions, an alliance of 14 national and international unions in the building and construction trades, provides the maglev project extra political muscle, especially in a state like Maryland that is dominated by Democrats. The alliance also makes sense in that unions and tech startups, such as The Boring Co., are often at odds.

State Del. Cory McCray, a staunch supporter of organized labor who attended the meeting along with other state legislators, said the deal gives a boost to maglev because it’s now about providing jobs to his constituents that will include health care and retirement benefits.

“I do believe that this gives a little bit more credibility (to the maglev) because they are dealing with organized labor,” McCray said.

Do you have real estate news to share? Contact Adam Bednar at adam.bednar@thedailyrecord.com.


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