Where the future meets the past-SCMAGLEV

The world’s fastest train brings Linthicum’s biggest question

By J.E. Szech     

              Linthicum’s days as a sleepy community that grew out of a short line railroad have faded into the history books.  The quiet calm of a winter’s night is no longer shaken by the rumble of a diesel, or the shrill whistle of steam in the railroad’s early days. Instead, Amtrak can now be heard in the distance and the hum of an approaching Light Rail train brings mixed feelings for many residents about what progress really means.  Howard’s is gone. Lindy’s is gone. Keller’s is gone.  One thing is constant though, a train still runs through Linthicum Heights.

              Linthicum’s next challenge in the name of progress has taken the form of a proposed Superconducting Magnetic Levitating (SCMAGLEV) train with a proposed route from Washington D.C. to BWI/Marshall and on to a Baltimore station.  Linthicum residents, as well as local representation in the Senate, fought against the original proposed MAGLEV train in the early 2000’s. The train at the time was planning to use German technology.  That project failed to move out of the impact study phase and ultimately died.  The current proposed train traces its roots to Governor Hogan’s trade mission to Asia in 2015 and is being developed by the Central Japan Railway Company. 

The major difference between this project and the earlier MAGLEV is the use of superconducting magnets.  A superconducting magnet is made from coils of superconducting wires that are cooled to cryogenic temperatures (-238 degrees Fahrenheit).  This technology is expected to deliver operating speeds over 300 miles per hour.  There is no contact with any rail once train achieves a determined speed and retracts its tires. The train would then be guided through a U-shaped channel.

Baltimore Washington Rapid Rail, LLC (BWRR) was formed to explore and develop the train in conjunction with an affiliated company, The Northeast Maglev.  Ultimately the goal would be to connect Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York City through high speed rail.  Proponents of the project believe that the train would ultimately reduce travel time, reduce cars on the highways, as well as foster economic growth by allowing easy transit between Washingtonand Baltimore.  Construction of the system would also allow for job growth.  Japan has pledged two million dollars for the impact study and the Federal Railroad Administration has granted 27.8 million dollars for the development and planning of the portion of the system spanning from Washington to New York.  At this point in time no funds from the State of Maryland have been allocated for development or construction of the SCMAGLEV system.  In a recent address to the LSIA at the January meeting, State Senator Ed DeGrange stated that the current construction cost of the Washington-Baltimore segment could be approximately seventeen billion dollars or more.

Aside from the potential risk to taxpayers (at this point this is a private venture with oversight coming from the Maryland Department of Transportation), residents are concerned with the location of the system as well the potential loss of property and impact on home values.  The representatives from BWRR believe that home values would increase based on the proximity to high speed transportation and the ability to reach D.C. in 15-20 minutes.  The cost of that trip is still unknown. 

BWRR attained the ability to operate a railroad when it acquired the rights to the Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis Railroad (WB&A) that ceased operations in 1935.  Under the agreement BWRR is not obligated to use previous WB&A rights of way, most of which are now paved roads, bike paths, or privately owned parcels of land.  The current impact study area is about 400 square miles comprised of a ten-mile wide path along the forty mile Baltimore/Washington corridor. David Henly, a BWRR Project Manager, emphasized at a recent scoping meeting that straight runs of land would be critical for the system to reach its 311 mile per hour operating speed and that tunnels may be an expensive option—especially in populated areas such as Linthicum where the train would stop at BWI/Marshall.  Tunnels are not the answer to every question regarding land use as ventilation and escape routes will have to extend to the surface.

At this time, residents are left with more questions than answers with many wondering if the financing for this project will materialize and whether state money will ever be contributed to the construction.  Senator DeGrange added that a bill was passed in the early 2000’s that prevented any state contributions to the development or construction of a MAGLEV train.  That law, however, was later found to be unconstitutional.   The new presidential administration has made claims that it plans to improve the national infrastructure which could lead to more federal rail money being pushed for the project, or an improvement of the existing Amtrak system.  LSIA will continue to monitor the progress of the development and residents who are concerned should write to the Governor directly.

DeGrange was responsible for blocking it but the legislation he pushed through was later declared unconstitutional by the courts.