Maglev’s Moment? Campaign for High-Speed Train from Baltimore-DC Picks up Steam

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The backers of a train that would ping commuters from D.C. to Baltimore in a mere 15 minutes already floated their plans in Baltimore earlier this fall. This week, the bullet train boosters showed the national business media types the train in Japan. But given the hard realities of building such a massive project, are we all being taken for a ride?

Here’s Northeast Maglev CEO Wayne Rogers aboard a Japanese Maglev, telling Bloomberg about how the project has $5 billion in backing from the Japanese government, and is looking to the U.S. for more funding.

There he is again, telling the Wall Street Journal that the project could be completed in time for a 2024 Olympics in D.C., and talking up an advisory board made up of past governors, U.S. Senators and Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank.

Look! Over there! It’s former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman telling the New York Times that MagLev makes Amtrak look embarrassing by comparison (Oh no she didn’t!).

All the coordinated media appearances are undoubtedly designed to catch the eye of potential big money backers, and make the project seem inevitable. But given America’s recent track record with rail projects, there are plenty of ways the project could get derailed.

Relying on technology that allows cars to float above the rails, the Maglev runs at speeds up to 314 mph. It’s seen as a way to ease congestion on the increasingly car-choked I-95 corridor.

That’s really cool from a science and transit perspective, expect for one fact: the train needs its own rails to operate. In order to build those rails, Rogers and the other backers need cooperation from real estate companies for rights of way to build new track.

And the queue is already forming. Amtrak already has their own proposal for high-speed rail, which would go a measly 220 mph. Writng today in The Daily Record, wonky scribe Megan McArdle points out that even though high-speed rail is slower, it allows for better people-moving around metro areas.

“The drawback (to Maglev) is that your new infrastructure project only increases your downtown-to-downtown capacity; it doesn’t do anything to enhance intracity or city-to-suburb transport,” she writes.

Whether it’s Amtrak or Maglev, the bottom line criticism likely rings the the loudest truth: Both projects are really expensive. The Amtrak proposal has been called too costly. Meanwhile, Maglev would need to double their $5 billion investment from the Japanese to begin the Baltimore-Washington line.

Maglev would likely have to get the cash from the notoriously gridlocked Congress. They could also go back to the Japanese, but they already have their own Maglev to build to the tune of 9 trillion yen.

But these should be seen as temporary delays instead of reasons the project shouldn’t get built. After all, the roads are crowded. Plus, as McArdle writes and Rogers keeps demonstrating, riding on Maglev seems really cool.



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