D.C.-to-Baltimore maglev would only benefit rich, Amtrak chief says

Amtrak CEO William J. Flynn on Thursday took a shot at the proposed maglev train line for the Northeast Corridor, telling Congress the technology is vastly more expensive and environmentally disruptive than conventional and high-speed rail — and once built, it would serve only the rich.

“The huge public expenditures required to construct a maglev line would benefit only a small number of affluent travelers,” Flynn said during prepared testimony to the House subcommittee on railroads, pipelines and hazardous materials.


“Constructing a maglev line is much more expensive than building a new high-speed rail line, and vastly more costly than upgrading an existing rail line for higher speeds,” Flynn said while making the case for investments in Amtrak. “Construction of a maglev line through heavily populated areas would also be much more environmentally disruptive. … Maglevs are also not as energy efficient as Amtrak trains.”

A model maglev train at an exhibition center in Yamanashi, Japan.

Flynn’s comments at a congressional hearing on the benefits and challenges of high-speed rail preceded testimony from Wayne Rogers, chief executive of Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail, which is proposing the maglev line.


Rogers told the panel a maglev system would be complementary to Amtrak service, criticizing the existing service by saying the Northeast Corridor “lacks modern first-class transportation infrastructure.”

The maglev project is undergoing a federal environmental review, facing opposition from federal agencies, local leaders and some residents who argue that investments should instead be made on Amtrak and commuter trains.

The 40-mile “superconducting magnetic levitation train system” is planned as the first leg of a system that would carry passengers between Washington and New York in an hour. The D.C.-to-Baltimore trip would take 15 minutes at speeds up to 311 mph. Plans call for its construction within a decade.

The maglev trip time would be 15 minutes faster than an Acela train, which takes about 30 minutes. Flynn said that Acela trip could be cut to 21 minutes if federal investments are made, with the planned replacement of a Civil War-era tunnel south of Baltimore and other track improvements. Enhancements in the Northeast also would allow for D.C.-to-New York trips in two hours, he said.

“Very few Amtrak NEC [Northeast Corridor] or MARC commuter rail passengers would be able to use, and even fewer could afford to use, the proposed Washington-Baltimore maglev,” Flynn said.

The cost to ride the maglev would be higher than using Amtrak. According to a federal analysis, the expected average fare would be $60 for a one-way trip to Baltimore, although it could vary between $27 and $80 per trip. Amtrak’s Acela costs about $46 one way, and a coach seat on a regular train can cost as little as $8.

Flynn’s comments come as the railroad is on a crusade to build support — both financial and political — for a major expansion of its network. Amtrak has unveiled a plan to provide new intercity service to 160 communities and expand service in corridors with heightened demand for rail. The passenger railroad is pushing for 30 possible new routes.