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Swayed by project’s job potential, NAACP endorses maglev proposal

Wandra Ashley-Williams, first vice president Maryland State Conference NAACP, said poor black residents of Baltimore desperately want access to decent paying jobs. The organization believes Northeast Maglev's proposed train line will help provide those jobs. (The Daily Record / Adam Bednar)

Wandra Ashley-Williams, first vice president Maryland State Conference NAACP, said poor black residents of Baltimore desperately want access to decent-paying jobs. The organization believes Northeast Maglev’s proposed train line will help provide those jobs. (The Daily Record/Adam Bednar)

Maryland’s NAACP says its support for a proposed maglev train linking Baltimore and Washington boils down to jobs.

Officials from the Maryland State Conference NAACP said on Friday the organization supports the project, expected to cost more than $10 billion to build, which would enable trains to travel between Washington and New York in an hour.

“We believe this project has the opportunity to create black millionaires who are already (living) in Baltimore,” Kobi Little, president of the city’s NAACP branch, said.

During a news conference at Northeast Maglev and Baltimore Washington’s Rapid Rail offices downtown, Little said that too often major projects in the city create wealth for people who don’t live in Baltimore.

The NAACP wants to be involved, Little said, to ensure minority residents prosper from the proposed superconducting magnetic levitation train line.

Northeast Maglev, which works to promote maglev technology, says that building the line will create 74,000 jobs in Maryland from construction and 1,500 annually after opening. That’s expected to mean 6,400 construction jobs in Baltimore alone.

Wandra Ashley-Williams, the Maryland NAACP’s first vice president, said she’s walked the streets of Baltimore talking to poor black residents desperate for work.

“The No. 1 concern they have is jobs. They want to work. They want livable wages,” Ashley-Williams said.

NAACP’s support for maglev will involve educating African-American communities about the plan in order to cultivate support for the project.

Bob Ross, president of the Prince George’s County NAACP, said informing residents about the maglev project is crucial. There’s already misinformation about the line circulating, he said.

“A lot of people are out there putting fear out about the project. We have to address that,” Ross said.

Northeast Maglev will partner with the NAACP to dispense information about jobs and job training for minorities.

The company also pledged to work with the NAACP to bolster efforts to prepare minority youth for careers in science, technology, educations and math fields associated with high-paying jobs.

Wayne Rogers, chairman and CEO of Northeast Maglev, said the project offers upward economic mobility to struggling Maryland residents.

“This project has the ability to be a ticket to the middle class for many people,” Rogers said.

Boosters hope construction on the project can start within two years, but that’s contingent on an ongoing federal review of the plan being finished on time. A draft of the report, which will help establish the path between Baltimore and Washington, is expected later this year.

There are still significant details about the project to be worked out. The price for a ride on the train, for example, hasn’t been determined. The cost of a ride, Rogers said, will depend on a variety of factors, such as whether the cost of riding is subsidized by the government.

Because of uncertainties about cost and support it’s not a direct comparison, but a seven-day standard Japan RailPass to ride the  “bullet train” in that country currently costs $269 per person.

The NAACP’s support marked the second endorsement of the maglev line from a significant minority group since this winter. Tiffany W. Majors, in her first appearance as CEO of the Greater Baltimore Urban League, touted her group’s support in December.

The maglev project secured union support in 2017. Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail, which is the line’s developer, and North America’s Building Trade Unions signed a memorandum of understanding stipulating contractors working on the line provide apprenticeship readiness programs to train Maryland residents and hire union workers.

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