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Tunnel could bring disaster to Baltimore

While I thank reporter Kevin Rector for his coverage of the Federal Railroad Administration decision regarding a new Amtrak tunnel in West Baltimore and his careful phrasing and inclusion of some of the downside details, I would like to see The Baltimore Sun cover a lot more of the dangers to the area concerned and all of Baltimore — now and for the future ("FRA picks plan to replace problematic Amtrak tunnel beneath Baltimore after years-long review," March 31). The Final Environmental Impact Statement, supposedly "an objective data document," has some serious spin built into it. And certainly, the spokespeople for the project have an agenda. Some of the spin has leaked into this article.

For instance, I quote a statement designed to convey faster trips for passengers as the goal, while minimizing the role of freight:

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"The new tunnel system would eliminate the current tunnel's sharp curves and allow Amtrak and MARC trains to travel at higher speeds under the city. It also would ease movement of commercial freight along the line, though the limitations of the existing tunnel already have pushed freight companies to find alternate routes through the region."

This might sound grand, but the report estimates time savings between 18 seconds and two minutes per trip — for $4.5 billion. We did the math, and even if there was a way (which there isn't) to capture and monetize the time savings per passenger, it would be over 200 years to come out even on the investment. This is not about passenger savings or convenience.

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Meanwhile, CSX and Norfolk Southern have both made statements about taking full advantage of the tunnel. Gov. Larry Hogan has endorsed it as an essential freight route to the Port of Baltimore, and the Maryland Department of Transportation forecast anticipates this use. If Baltimore and Maryland are serious about the port and freight, then build appropriate, dedicated tracks through industrial areas.

Look at all the information and it is impossible not to conclude that the four bore, double-stack height plan is about freight. It is about a refusal to look at or pay for a bypass route through already industrial zones. It is about running tons of explosives, nuclear material, flammables and toxins (freight has changed a lot in the hundred years since freight trains first passed through Baltimore) through and under our city. This is in spite of nationwide movements to reduce or abandon this dangerous practice — where it already exists — to say nothing of spending billions to increase it.

Again, I thank Mr. Rector and the Sun, but I also respectfully request that the paper do a thorough investigative report on this. This is a huge deal that changes the face, function and future of Baltimore. Please look into the (sketchy) background, the overlooked hazards to the entire city, and the slanted — perhaps to the point of fraud — details in the environmental impact study.

Laura Amlie, Baltimore


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