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Rail operator planning Maglev train opposes developer’s court motion in high-stakes property dispute

A rail operator seeking to take over a Westport development site for a high-speed Maglev train linking Baltimore and Washington asked a court Friday to deny the property developer’s request to dismiss a condemnation lawsuit.

Maglev company Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail filed a lawsuit June 7 to condemn 43 acres on Westport’s waterfront where Sparks-based Stonewall Capital plans to build a 1,300-unit mixed-use community of apartments and town houses.

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Stonewall had argued in a Baltimore Circuit Court filing that the rail operator lacks the authority to acquire private property for public use through eminent domain. And, Stonewall said, the maglev builder also failed to pursue condemnation within four years after it said it won authorization to acquire the property, a deadline specified in state law.

On Friday, Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail argued in a court filing that no statute of limitations exists on a railroad’s ability to condemn land to build and operate its rail line. The railroad asked the court to deny Stonewall’s motion.

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“When a railroad condemns land, it does so for a clear public purpose, akin to a public utility,” the maglev operator said in the filling. “Applying a four-year limitations period to a railroad does not make sense.”

A hearing on the developer’s motion to dismiss the rail operator’s lawsuit is scheduled for Aug. 30.

Ray Jackson, a principal with Stonewall, said the planned community of homes, shops, stores and a park has the backing of the Westport community and Baltimore officials.

“The arrogance of Maglev leadership never ceases to amaze me,” Jackson said in an email.

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Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail claims it has condemnation authority stemming from its acquisition of the former Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis Electric Railroad Co. franchise in 2015. The rail operator, which eventually hopes to extend its train to New York, says condemnation power came with the franchise as a last resort to acquire essential land for the proposed $10 billion route.

Wayne Rogers, CEO of Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail, has said the economic and environmental benefits of a train whisking riders from Baltimore to Washington in 15 minutes, and eventually from Baltimore to New York in under an hour, would outweigh benefits of waterfront housing for the city, state and Northeast corridor.

Baltimore City recently asked the Federal Railroad Administration not to approve the train, citing concerns about equity and the project’s effects on the environment.

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