State lawmakers from Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties asked Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn Tuesday to reject a second proposed route alignment for the proposed high-speed maglev train route between Baltimore and Washington.
The state already had dropped a proposed alignment along the Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis Trail amid opposition from Bowie residents, the two state senators and five delegates noted in a letter. The letter asked the state to cancel plans to run the train along Amtrak’s Penn Line corridor.
“As you know, we and many of our constituents strongly oppose the proposed MAGLEV routes which would disrupt our neighborhoods with little or no value to local residents,” said the letter, signed by senators Jim Rosapepe and Joanne Benson, and delegates Barbara Frush, Joseline Peña-Melnyk, Ben Barnes, Erek Barron and Jazz Lewis. “We appreciate that you have dropped the WB&A route. We urge you to drop the Amtrak route promptly and identify and mitigate any community impacts of underground routes.”
Both the state and Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail, the company seeking to build the train using Japanese magnetic levitation technology, said they’ve already withdrawn support for the proposed Amtrak alignment, though the lawmakers and opponents say they’ve seen no official notification.
The high-speed transit project, expected to cost between $10 billion and $12 billion, is in the first year of a federally funded, $27.8 million environmental review that is expected to be complete in summer 2019.
Much of any of the train’s alignments would be in tunnels bored underground, the company has said, with above-ground sections running on suspended viaducts.
Canceling the Amtrak route option leaves two remaining alignment proposals, on the east and west sides of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.
Maryland Department of Transportation spokeswoman Erin Henson said the state already has been working with the Federal Railroad Administration to eliminate the Amtrak alignment and “closely examine remaining potential routes to guard against any possible harm to local communities.”
She provided an Oct. 14 letter from Rahn that she said was distributed at open houses this fall, pledging that the state would not allow any alignment that “would harm local communities or affect the quality of life of the citizens along the proposed path.”
“If there is not a proposed route that ultimately meets this criteria,” Henson wrote, “the administration reserves the right to support a ‘no build’ outcome.”
Rosapepe, who represents parts of both Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties, said he had not heard that the Amtrak alignment had been dropped. Rahn’s October letter made no specific mention of it, and the route was included in maps presented at community meetings in the fall, he noted.
“If it is dropped, that would be very good news, but I’ve seen no official communication that it has been,” Rosapepe said.
Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail seconded the state’s assertion that the route already was being dismissed due to various concerns.
“As we have previously stated, the Amtrak route is problematic from the perspective of environmental impacts, construction and safety,” spokesman Cameron French wrote. “We think there are alternative routes that have minimal public impacts.”
Dennis Brady, head of a Bowie-based opposition group called Citizens Against This Superconducting Maglev, said he’d heard that the state was weighing canceling the Amtrak route, but also said he hadn’t seen anything official.
Brady’s group is pushing the state to reject the whole project, arguing that it is not fiscally viable and that all of the routes are problematic.
“If they drop the Amtrak line, that’s four of the six [proposed alignments] that are dropped, so we’ll be two thirds of the way there,” he said. “We’re pleased to hear that they’re looking to drop the Amtrak line, but we remain concerned about the other two alignments because we do not believe that it will be economically viable.”
The Federal Railroad Administration, which was copied on the letter, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
While Hogan is among the project’s supporters and the Maryland Department of Transportation is involved in the environmental review and community outreach, the governor has said the project would have to be built without state money.
Private supporters have raised $65 million for the project, and the Japanese — eager to win a potentially lucrative contract for 200 miles of train infrastructure extending north to New York — have offered incentives for the first leg between Baltimore and Washington.
The state-owned Japan Bank for International Cooperation has pledged $5 billion loan, and the Central Japan Railway Co. has said it will waive all technology licensing fees.
Proponents say the train will connect Washington and Baltimore in 15 minutes, thanks to maglev technology that allows the train to float just above the tracks and reach more than 300 mph.
Opponents have said the project’s cost, potential residential impacts — and the failure of a previous magnetic levitation project to gain the required political traction — are their main concerns.
Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail “remains committed to developing the Northeast Maglev project in an environmentally responsible manner that fully respects local communities,” French said in a statement.
“We look forward to continued engagement with lawmakers and communities along other potential routes as the environmental impact statement moves forward,” French wrote.