Enough with all the mag-love
It is frustrating to see a bright young leader like Thiru Vignarajah hop on the maglev boosterism express (Baltimore’s rejection of maglev shows a lack of next generation thinking, July 7). He joins Gov. Hogan and The Baltimore Sun on a train to nowhere.
“Mag-loving” is misleading on many fronts. First, maglev is NOT the next generation of rail technology. To the contrary, it has been around since at least the 1960s, and there is not a single example of an effective maglev network that has gone into service for revenue. Exorbitant costs explain why the Europeans — and then the Chinese — built their high-speed rail networks on standard steel-and-wheels.
Second, maglev versus Acela is not a false choice. The history of American infrastructure tells us that the private sector does not provide free lunch transportation projects. Money spent on maglev will ultimately be money that could and should be spent on high-speed Amtrak service.
Most troubling about all this mag-loving is that it rejects urban planning expertise — in this case, from Baltimore City’s Department of Planning. Any seasoned urban planner who has examined the Baltimore Washington Rapid Rail Project knows that a Cherry Hill centered maglev project does not serve the people of Baltimore. It does not benefit existing MARC commuters or the Acela business class (who would have to get to and from Cherry Hill — making it less convenient than just hopping on an updated high-speed rail downtown).
The no build alternative is right and obvious. Maryland’s leaders would get this if they respected the knowledge of experts.
The writer is an urban planner; he recently completed a report on federal Opportunity Zones policy in Baltimore.
Maglev should be part of Baltimore’s and nation’s future
In his commentary, “City’s rejection shows a lack of next generation thinking” (July 8), Thiru Vignarajah is correct in his argument that Baltimore’s leaders are shortsighted in opposing the Northeast Maglev project. But their lack of vision is far worse than he described, and the potential of maglev is also far greater than he writes.
The issue, as with the original B & O Railroad in 1828, is building the first commercial application of a new technology that will revolutionize American transportation and raise the productivity of the whole nation, as it is extends across the country. The line between Baltimore and Washington is simply the initial phase of the new technology, which should then be extended to New York and then to Boston. But for the full potential of maglev to be realized, it will require federal government credit and coordination, as Lincoln used the Greenback credit policy to build the Trans-Pacific railroad, based on the type of credit policy promoted by Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay through his American System, and later FDR’s New Deal dam and energy projects financed through the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. This is a far greater use of credit than continuing to bail out the Wall Street mega banks and will require the reinstatement of FDR’s Glass-Steagall Act.
The fullest potential of maglev will be realized, however, when it is extended from simply passenger transit to also carrying freight, which will allow us to replace the massive number of long haul trucks on our highways. China, which has built over 15,000 miles of high speed rail in only the last 20 years using the American System methods we once used, is now building high speed maglev, as well as low speed maglev within cities, and is beginning to experiment with carrying freight on maglev. If China can do this, why can’t we? Especially since we once built the original railroad here in Baltimore!
The opposing argument of doctoral student Douwe Schipper against the maglev project (“Another too good to be true promise in city transportation,” July 8), by comparing the false promises of the benefits to inner cities by those pushing the interstate highway construction, totally misses the point. His argument is based on the cynical premise that since people have been lied to in the past, any new project must be a lie. On that basis, progress is impossible.
Today, maglev construction across the nation should be part of a massive infrastructure rebuilding program, and it should be part of the global Belt and Road Initiative that China is building. As a key port city, Baltimore should be connected to this Belt and Road, and become once again an industrial city engaged in producing the component parts, and the steel needed, for this global infrastructure program. It is that type of visionary and optimistic thinking, once characteristic of America, that we need today, not the small minded focus on repairing a few subway lines.
Gerald Belsky, Baltimore
Railroad hubris beyond belief
The hubris of some businesses beggars belief. Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail LLC, a private company, is reportedly seeking to condemn a waterfront property for a maglev project (”Maglev company sues to condemn land planned for Westport development, setting up showdown between projects in South Baltimore,” July 2). That was the first piece of information that made me blink: the use of eminent domain to condemn land for projects is a power held by governments, not businesses. Where did these people get the idea they had any standing to condemn property?
As I read on, hoping the court will have the sense to dismiss their suit, I found something even more remarkable: The federal government has not yet approved the maglev project for which they want the land. That means they are demanding the right to exercise a power they don’t possess to acquire land they might not be able to use for the stated purpose, just because — what? Their mothers thought they were the most wonderful babies in the world?
It seems a little late to have to point this out, but a whole lot of other people don’t feel that way. People who think everything revolves around their wishes and their plans are a menace to the public good, which by its nature comprises a balance of all needs, including those of future generations. In all likelihood, the land in Westport should have limited development, with a strong focus on preparing for rising sea levels as the century advances and on the needs of existing and neighboring communities. A modest housing development with waterfront parkland designed for flood mitigation might be a good thing. It seems doubtful that a maglev project, which must at a minimum need a stable substrate, could be as suitable, even if there were no questions about the remainder of its route or the harm to existing communities and businesses along that route.
Katharine W. Rylaarsdam, Baltimore
Forget maglev, just charter a helicopter
It pains me to see billions of taxpayer dollars sunk into a wasteful project like the maglev train between Baltimore and D.C. Here’s the problem: It’s about 40 miles between Penn Station in Baltimore and Union Station in D.C. The Acela train takes about 35 minutes to make that trip. The Acela is already moderately expensive, but the tracks are already there, and the Acela goes all the way from D.C. to Boston.
Let’s just suppose that billions of dollars get spent on a maglev between Baltimore and D.C. Let’s also suppose that it goes faster than the Acela and the trip takes only 15 minutes instead of 35 minutes. The price will be correspondingly higher because the entire right of way needs to be obtained, and the maglev guides have to be built with very expensive superconducting magnets. And the maglev initially won’t even go as far as Philly, much less New York or Boston.
It makes no sense to build an entire new highly expensive mode of transportation so that people who want to go from Baltimore to D.C. can save 20 minutes. If their time is that valuable, they should just charter a helicopter. Helicopters don’t need tracks. All they need is a heliport. Heliports are way less expensive than maglev tracks and trains. If the weather is so bad that the choppers aren’t flying, the rich folks can go by Acela.
Henry Farkas, Pikesville