Local leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on Friday threw their support behind a proposed high-speed magnetic levitation train through Maryland — saying the project would produce good jobs for residents.
The historic advocacy organization for black and minority Americans will provide assistance to The Northeast Maglev, the company behind the proposed project, in the form of community outreach and education, the leaders said — helping explain the benefits of a project that has raised concerns in some minority communities in the region.
In exchange, they will have a “seat at the table” if and when the company begins job training and apprenticeship programs to fill the 74,000 construction jobs and 1,500 permanent jobs it estimates the project will create if built, they and Northeast Maglev officials said.
“I’ve talked to residents, and the No. 1 concern they have is jobs,” said Wandra Ashley-Williams, vice president of the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches and a member of the NAACP national board of directors. “They want to work. They want livable wages. They want to be able to support their families and be citizens, worthy citizens, in the community where they live, in the state where they live, in the country where they live.”
“That is why we come together.”
Backers of the futuristic Japanese rail system, which uses magnetic forces to propel passenger trains to 311 mph, say the project in Maryland would get riders from Washington to Baltimore in 15 minutes, then, once extended, from Washington to New York City in an hour.
The portion of the project that would cut through Maryland, largely underground along the Route 295 corridor, would cost between $12 billion and $15 billion. Company officials say ticket pricing would be comparable to Amtrak’s Acela. They are not seeking state funds but would need substantial federal investment for the project — which they say they could complete in about a decade.
Critics of the project, including in minority communities in Baltimore and in the suburbs around Washington, have raised concerns that the train would displace homeowners, disturb the environment, misspend public funding that could be used to boost existing forms of public transit like Amtrak, and ultimately be too costly for moderate and low-income people to ride.
Dennis Brady of Bowie, who is chairman of the Citizens Against the SC Maglev Coalition, said Friday that he was disappointed in the NAACP’s new position on the project — but found it understandable given some of the messaging about the project from the company.
“The proponents are reaching out and trying to portray this as a jobs opportunity, and we don’t believe that’s true,” he said.
Brady said he believes upgrading Amtrak to faster speeds with next-generation technology would create more local jobs with less social and financial costs attached.
The maglev project is under a federal environmental review expected to be released toward the end of the year, at which time a final proposed route and station locations — in the two cities and one at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport — would be opened for public comment.
Wayne Rogers, president and CEO of The Northeast Maglev, said the partnership with the NAACP will help connect people eager for work with careers in a new industry that could last a lifetime.
“This project has the opportunity really to be a ticket to the middle class for many people. I mean, right now, people don’t have a job, they don’t have the skill set, they want to work. And how do they get there?” Rogers said. “This project — over that long construction period, and with the size and magnitude and complexity of the project — will have some entering the project with no skills and exiting the project fully trained, ready to face the rest of their lives.”
The maglev already had the backing of the North American Building Trades Unions.
Kobi Little, president of the Baltimore NAACP branch, said the project is committed to using minority businesses in contracts and purchasing, and committed to including Baltimore residents in its success — a model others could stand to learn from.
“This is a multiyear, multibillion dollar project. Baltimore can no longer have multiyear, multibillion dollar contracts come to Baltimore and the beneficiaries of those projects, the people who actually gain wealth, the people who make millions and billions of dollars, are not of the city,” he said.
He said local NAACP branches plan to hold town hall meetings to get “real citizen input [on] what the hopes are, what the concerns are, and to explore what the possibilities are.”
Bob Ross, president of the Prince George’s County NAACP branch who spent his career in the rail industry, said the NAACP wasn’t “at the table” when gambling began in Maryland, and local residents lost out on opportunities they might otherwise have had with the opening of casinos.
“With this project, we are ahead of the game, way early,” he said.
He said Maryland must “dispense with” the fear that is out there about the maglev and what it will mean for minority communities. He noted the proposed train route would not displace people from their homes.
Northeast Maglev says no homes would be displaced.
Ashley-Williams said she and the other NAACP leaders backing the project studied it carefully before signing on to support it, and had some concerns of their own.
“One of the concerns we had — and we have it with any and all projects — is how the communities would be affected. Will they get anything out of this project, or will they just be used, [with it] going through their community and their not reaping the benefits? Because they’re not using the trains, some of them,” she said.
Ultimately, they grew comfortable with the project — largely because of the jobs it will mean, but also because they determined it is environmentally friendly and holds tremendous potential that they wanted to benefit from.
She said the NAACP plans to play an active and ongoing role as a partner to the project moving forward.