Baltimore officially came out against the proposed high-speed Northeast Maglev train to Washington, recommending against building it due to concerns about equity and the project’s effects on the environment.
Chris Ryer and Steve Sharkey, the city’s planning and transportation chiefs, recommended a “No Build Alternative” for the $10 billion project in a May 14 letter to the Federal Railroad Administration in response to the project’s draft environmental impact statement. The Sun obtained the letter this week.
“The City of Baltimore has several concerns … related to equity, environmental justice, and community impacts,” they wrote. “Additionally, the draft lacks a sufficient level of detail regarding current and future plans for the project which make a comprehensive analysis difficult. The proposed project is also not aligned with significant efforts underway to upgrade existing rail infrastructure in the corridor.”
Using Japanese superconducting magnetic levitation technology, the train promises to shorten the trip between Baltimore and Washington to 15 minutes before eventually being expanded to New York, creating an hourlong trip between the nation’s capital and its most populated city.
But Baltimore’s four-page response detailed officials’ concerns about the effects of the train and the proposed Camden Yards or Cherry Hill stations on local communities and the environment.
Tickets projected to cost $60 each way, they wrote, “would negate an affordable and alternate form of transportation to the average citizen, and/or rider(s).”
“While numerous local jurisdictions and riders along the corridor would not be served by the SCMAGLEV, they would be subjected to the construction impacts,” the city officials said.
The recently announced investments in Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, including a new B&P Tunnel under West Baltimore named for Frederick Douglass, are “contrary to the SCMAGLEV proposal,” Ryer and Sharkey wrote.
Mayor Brandon Scott remains “intrigued” by the Maglev project “but [is] primarily focused on solutions to Baltimore’s acute transportation challenges,” his spokesman Cal Harris said in a statement.
“The Mayor remains committed to transit equity and ensuring residents can access reliable transportation options within city limits and across the region,” Harris said.
The Scott administration’s position on the Maglev does not necessarily doom the project, which enjoyed the support of previous Democratic Baltimore mayors, including Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Catherine Pugh. But the Federal Railroad Administration will review the city’s recommendation against it, along with other responses, as officials weigh whether to grant the project federal approval.
Baltimore Washington Rapid Rail, the company seeking to build the train, was disappointed to learn of the city’s lack of support and is “working diligently to meet with these departments so that they may understand fully the significant benefits that the Maglev will bring,” a spokeswoman said.
The company cast blame on the Maryland Transit Administration, claiming the state agency assisting with the federal approvals process had not allowed Baltimore Washington Rapid Rail officials to review the draft environmental impact statement before submitting it.
“Many of the benefits of the Maglev were not clearly presented in the Draft EIS, which was authored by consultants to the MTA, without our review and input,” company spokeswoman Kristen Thomaselli said.
Veronica Battisti, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Transit Administration, said in statement that Baltimore Washington Rapid Rail “provided significant technical information regarding project elements and engineering to support the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Maryland Department of Transportation’s (MDOT) analysis of the Project.
“MDOT and FRA independently evaluated that information and sought additional input from BWRR,” the statement continued. “The DEIS presents the full range of potential impacts, including an assessment of the Project benefits.”
Several of the criticisms in the city’s letter can be adequately addressed as the project moves forward, Thomaselli said.
“We have already been in contact with both Departments to meet, review, and address all their concerns,” she wrote.
The city’s recommendation was submitted toward the end of an unusually lengthy comment period due to the pandemic. The FRA set a 90-day comment period — twice the usual 45 days — when it released the draft environmental impact statement in January. With the MTA’s support, the FRA extended the comment period until May 24, and officials gathered input in six online public hearings.