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A House-Senate conference committee has dropped language in the budget bill that would have called on the Maryland Transit Administration to conduct a new study of a heavy rail alternative to the current O'Malley administration plan to build it as a light rail line.

The Senate had proposed the language, which would also have required new studies on two proposed Washington suburban transit lines, after hearing testimony from foes of the current Red Line plan that new guidelines for transit projects promulgated by the Obama administration could open the door for heavy rail -- similar to Baltimore's Metro subway.

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The MTA disputed that interpretation, saying the new guidelines provide no basis for reopening the fundamental plan decided upon by Gov. Martin O'Malley last summer.

House budget leaders -- led by Prince George's Del. Tawanna Gaines -- opposed the language. In the end, the House position prevailed -- in large part because of opposition from supporters of the proposed Purple Line in Prince George's and Montgomery counties. Purple Line fans were no more eager for  delay than Red Line supporters.

Baltimore's deputy transportation director, Jamie Kendrick, credited Sen. Verna Jones with leading the charges against the language. According to Kendrick, she offered a compromise that Red Line foes refused.

Some Baltimore media outlets were persuaded to make a big deal over the Senate language, apparently not realizing that it was only committee "narrative" -- non-binding recommendations attached to the budget. Without money to pay for a new study, it was an essentally symbolic gesture, but the MTA argued that it could harm its chances for federal approval of its projects.

MTA deputy administrator Henry Kay said a full restudy of heavy rail could cost millions for the Red Line alone, while even going through the motions of a perfunctory study could cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Foes of the Red Line might have a case, but their legislative strategy was really doomed from the get-go. In transportation, a "study" with no dollars behinds it is no study at all.

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