The federal government has “paused” its environmental assessment of the proposed $10 billion high-speed maglev train route between Baltimore and Washington to give the company hoping to build it time to provide more information on the design and engineering of the train, stations and alignments.
The halt comes amid an ongoing review of how it could affect historic properties along the proposed 36-mile line — including possibly replacing downtown Baltimore’s federal courthouse with a parking garage for a potential station at Camden Yards.
The historic properties review initially was expected to conclude in October but has been extended to the end of February, according to the federal government’s online permitting dashboard for the project.
Wayne Rogers, chairman and CEO of the Northeast Maglev, the company proposing the train, said the project was put on hold to allow the company to provide more details about the project “for review by the regulatory agencies and the public.”
The company did not provide details on exactly what new information it is submitting. But Rogers said the pause was separate from the historic properties review.
“It is not just one section, but furthering the engineering throughout the entire project,” Rogers said in a statement. "Once provided by [Baltimore Washington Rapid Rail, the company’s Baltimore-based subsidiary], additional engineering will be reviewed by the appropriate agencies to determine any potential impacts and any need for further review.”
The company has proposed two alternative route options and a pair of station sites in Baltimore — one at Camden Yards or one in Cherry Hill.
The Edward A. Garmatz U.S. Courthouse site would be needed only if Camden Yards were selected for a station, said Alex Jackson, a Northeast Maglev spokesman.
“If Cherry Hill is selected, the federal courthouse is not impacted,” he said.
A pair of adjacent federal buildings in downtown Baltimore — the G. H. Fallon Federal Building and the courthouse — were submitted for consideration in the historic property review, said Will Powell, a spokesman for the U.S. General Services Administration.
Baltimore’s federal courthouse “is noted as being within the potential demolition area, and would be replaced by a station parking garage,” Powell said in an email.
The Fallon building was determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places in 2017. The courthouse is scheduled to be evaluated for inclusion on the National Register in 2024.
The state transportation department had expected a report with more details on the final two alignment proposals, potential station locations and other facilities to be released in the fall. But the state is waiting on updated engineering input from Baltimore Washington Rapid Rail for the environmental evaluation, MDOT spokeswoman Erin Henson said in a statement.
The overall permitting process for the project is expected to conclude in August, according to the online federal dashboard.
It’s unclear what effect the pause will have on that timetable. Jackson said he doesn’t expect it to significantly delay the process, and he characterized it as a natural delay in a project involving more than 30 federal, state and local agencies.
“The additional engineering is going to be something that’s going to be resolved in short order," he said.
Bringing the Japanese magnetic levitation technology to the United States would amount to “a transformative public transportation infrastructure initiative,” shortening the trip between Baltimore and Washington to 15 minutes and eventually connecting New York and D.C. in an hour, BWRR officials say. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, the North American Building Trades Unions, the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland and four Baltimore-area chambers of commerce have endorsed the proposal.
But opponents argue the proposal underestimates its costs and overstates benefits, saying it won’t clear up Maryland’s congested highways and disconnected mass transit because stops will need to be limited to reach its advertised speed of 300 mph. They also have raised questions about the project’s environmental effects.
After hearing the company’s presentation at a meeting of the Central Maryland Regional Transit Plan Commission on Friday, Jim Shea, a chairman emeritus at Venable LLP and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate, was left wondering whether the one-hour express service between Washington and New York would stop in Baltimore.
“What’s the prospect of Baltimore being left out of this?” he asked. “What I gathered from it was there would be some express train and some so-called local trains that would stop in Baltimore.”
The express service will stop in Baltimore — provided the station is built in Cherry Hill, Jackson said.
“Baltimore is in, assuming the Cherry Hill station is selected,” Jackson said.