Ma­glev cre­ates pas­sion on both sides

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

MA­GLEV, moun­tain test track into a 272-mile com­mer­cial line from Tokyo to Osaka by 2037.

For nearly a decade, the com­pany also has been work­ing with a team of well­con­nected U.S. part­ners to lay the ground­work for a sec­ond ma­glev line along the North­east Cor­ri­dor, per­haps some day to Bos­ton. In its first phase, they say, it could trans­port trav­el­ers from Wash­ing­ton to Bal­ti­more in 15 min­utes, and later from Wash­ing­ton to New York in an hour, with stops along the way at BWI Mar­shall Air­port and Philadel­phia, among oth­ers.

It’s a pro­posal with the po­ten­tial to dra­mat­i­cally al­ter the lives of peo­ple up and down the cor­ri­dor, but par­tic­u­larly those in post-in­dus­trial Bal­ti­more, which has lost pop­u­la­tion for decades and strug­gles to hold onto an eco­nomic base be­yond the uni­ver­si­ties and hospi­tals that an­chor it. De­vel­op­ers and other busi­ness in­ter­ests in the city eye the train as a po­ten­tial shot in the arm, al­low­ing them to some­day pitch their prop­er­ties as the D.C. sub­urbs.

Equally pas­sion­ate are the train’s op­po­nents, who see it as a perk for the wealthy that would do noth­ing to im­prove the clogged high­ways and dys­func­tional mass tran­sit sys­tems that most Cen­tral Mary­land res­i­dents rely on. Ma­glev is a point of dis­agree­ment be­tween friends and neigh­bors, and be­tween po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates. Re­pub­li­can Gov. Larry Ho­gan sup­ports ex­plor­ing the idea. Ben Jeal­ous, Ho­gan’s Demo­cratic chal­lenger in the Nov. 6 elec­tion, adamantly op­poses the pro­ject.

As the Ja­panese ma­glev pro­ject has got­ten off the ground, the U.S. pro­posal — long con­sid­ered a half-cocked fan­tasy in Wash­ing­ton power cir­cles and gritty Bal­ti­more bars — has gained mo­men­tum, too.

In 2015, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­vided a $28 mil­lion grant for a study of the Bal­ti­more to Wash­ing­ton pro­posal. Ho­gan’s ad­min­is­tra­tion agreed to spon­sor Bal­ti­more Wash­ing­ton Rapid Rail, a U.S. com­pany that would op­er­ate the pro­posed line, through the fed­eral re­view process.

And the state’s Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion granted BWRR rights to op­er­ate a rail­road through the re­gion us­ing a long­dor­mant fran­chise that was aban­doned in 1935 by the now-de­funct Wash­ing­ton, Bal­ti­more and An­napo­lis Elec­tric Rail­road Co.

The num­ber of po­ten­tial routes for the new ma­glev line was nar­rowed to two ear­lier this year, and a more de­tailed anal­y­sis of the routes — both of which would be more than two-thirds tun­nel and fol­low the Route 295 cor­ri­dor — is due out this fall. Congress, mean­while, is con­sid­er­ing an ad­di­tional $150 mil­lion ap­pro­pri­a­tion for ma­glev projects, which BWRR of­fi­cials say would be enough to push their pro­posal through en­gi­neer­ing and pos­si­bly into con­struc­tion.

From there, it would take an­other $10 bil­lion to $15 bil­lion, by BWRR’s cal­cu­la­tions, to ac­tu­ally build the line from Wash­ing­ton to Bal­ti­more — much of which would have to come from fed­eral cof­fers, even if the pro­ject at­tracts mas­sive pri­vate in­vest­ment.

The pro­ject’s Ja­panese back­ers, at JR Cen­tral and in the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment, know that gives sticker shock to many U.S. of­fi­cials and tax­pay­ers. But they are highly mo­ti­vated to see the U.S. pro­ject move for­ward, in part be­cause it would help them re­al­ize economies of scale in the pro­duc­tion of their own line in Ja­pan. And it would cre­ate a more global mar­ket for the ma­glev ex­per­tise they’ve de­vel­oped within their work­force.

To soften the po­ten­tial fi­nan­cial pain, JR Cen­tral — which had more than $12 bil­lion in op­er­at­ing rev­enues in 2017 from its ex­ist­ing Ja­panese rail busi­ness — has of­fered to waive li­cens­ing fees for BWRR’s use of its tech­nol­ogy. It has also promised to as­sist the Mary­land com­pany in se­cur­ing bil­lions of dol­lars in low-in­ter­est Ja­panese loans to float as much as half the con­struc­tion costs.

“We are pre­pared to make an all-out ef­fort to sup­port them from a tech­nol­ogy point of view,” said Shun-ichi Ko­suge, JR Cen­tral’s ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent.

With the Ja­panese sup­port, a mix of ad­di­tional pri­vate in­vest­ments and bil­lions in grants and loans from the U.S. gov­ern­ment, BWRR of­fi­cials say they can reach full fi­nanc­ing. If all goes well, they say, they could start con­struc­tion on the Wash­ing­ton-to-Bal­ti­more leg as early as 2020 and po­ten­tially open it by 2027, the same year the first leg of the Ja­panese line is to open.

They con­tend the ben­e­fits of the rail line war­rant the needed fed­eral sup­port.

Back­ers say the train would ease high­way con­ges­tion, free up airspace, cut down on lost hours and in­crease Amer­i­can pro­duc­tiv­ity. They say it would re­vi­tal­ize postin­dus­trial cities like Bal­ti­more, re­duce car­bon emis­sions from cars and planes, pro­vide a new in­dus­try for union­ized la­bor, and make the U.S. a global leader in high-speed rail. They say con­struc­tion and op­er­a­tion of the line would cre­ate more than 200,000 jobs.

More omi­nously, they ar­gue that it is nec­es­sary to help pre­vent al­most-cer­tain eco­nomic stag­na­tion be­tween Wash­ing­ton and New York in com­ing years if noth­ing is done to al­le­vi­ate grow­ing con­ges­tion.

“It’s a big in­vest­ment. It’s a lot of money. But the idea is to shrink the ge­og­ra­phy,” Pat­ter­son said. “It’s about trans­for­ma­tion, not trans­porta­tion.”

Crit­ics of the pro­posal — and there are many — say pro­po­nents vastly un­der­es­ti­mate its many costs, and over­state its ben­e­fits. They say a ma­glev line will dis­rupt neigh­bor­hoods and com­mu­ni­ties, mak­ing them less safe and less de­sir­able places to live. The train will blow through their towns, they say, with­out stop­ping or pro­vid­ing any lo­cal ben­e­fits. They fear it will fail to at­tract suf­fi­cient rid­er­ship, and Both pro­posed ma­glev routes leave Bal­ti­more near Westport and use tun­nels for more than two-thirds of the dis­tance to Wash­ing­ton. One runs along the eastern side of Bal­ti­more-Wash­ing­ton Park­way, the other along the western side. The site of a sta­tion in each city is still un­clear. that BWRR will have to be bailed out by tax­pay­ers.

They ar­gue that the mas­sive un­der­tak­ing likely would re­quire bil­lions more in fed­eral back­ing than BWRR cur­rently es­ti­mates. And they ques­tion the very premise of build­ing a 40-mile train line for $15 bil­lion — enough money to pay for thou­sands of miles of new high­ways, for ex­am­ple, or the en­tire Bal­ti­more schools bud­get for more than a decade.

One cit­i­zens group launched a Change.org pe­ti­tion to halt the pro­ject, call­ing it a “boon­dog­gle” and at­tract­ing nearly 1,800 sig­na­tures.

“We don’t see how the hell they’re go­ing to gen­er­ate enough rev­enue to cover the costs,” said Dan Woomer, a 66-year-old Linthicum res­i­dent and a mem­ber of the group.

“Not only is it, ‘You're go­ing to dis­turb my back­yard,’ but even more im­por­tantly, we feel it is a pro­ject that is not go­ing to ben­e­fit the lo­cal com­mu­nity,” said Steve Skol­nik, pres­i­dent of Green­belt Homes, a his­toric co­op­er­a­tive in one po­ten­tial path of the train.

“It’s scary,” said Keisha Allen, 43, pres­i­dent of the Westport Neigh­bor­hood As­so­ci­a­tion in Bal­ti­more, who fears be­ing dis­placed by the pro­ject. “I’m wait­ing for the shoe to drop, that it’s go­ing to be some­thing bad, and that we’ll have to find an at­tor­ney — like we have the money for that.”

Of­fi­cials at BWRR say they ap­pre­ci­ate com­mu­nity con­cerns and will con­tinue work­ing to al­le­vi­ate them as the fed­eral re­view moves for­ward. But they also as­sert that their plan is fi­nan­cially sound, and that com­mu­nity dis­rup­tions will be min­i­mal in com­par­i­son to the over­all ben­e­fits to the re­gion. They note that much of the train’s path would be 10 sto­ries un­der­ground.

Wayne Rogers, the for­mer Mary­land Demo­cratic Party chair­man who is BWRR’s chair­man and CEO, says the pro­ject’s costs are man­age­able with the right fi­nanc­ing struc­ture on the front end. He in­sists the com­pany does not need — and doesn’t plan to ask for — any on­go­ing gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies to off­set fu­ture op­er­at­ing costs, un­like ex­ist­ing mass tran­sit in the re­gion.

The U.S. would be fool­ish not to take ad­van­tage of five decades of Ja­panese de­vel­op­ment and ac­cept JR Cen­tral’s gen­er­ous help, he says — and be­fore the North­east stalls out.

“Let’s take their train, take the ad­van­tage of all of that, lift it up, bring it into our cor­ri­dor, and re­ally trans­form every­thing,” Rogers said. “It can be done.” It’s the stuff of sci­ence fic­tion. When cooled to mi­nus 452 de­grees Fahren­heit, a ti­ta­nium al­loy be­comes a pow­er­ful su­per-mag­net. Built into a train, such mag­nets in­ter­act with oth­ers in the walls of a guide­way — pro­duc­ing forces so strong they not only pro­pel the train for­ward at record-break­ing speed, but keep it per­fectly cen­tered along its track and 3.9 inches off the ground.

It will never de­rail, rail­road of­fi­cials say — even in the event of an earth­quake, and even if power is cut to the sys­tem.

Rid­ing the ma­glev doesn’t di­min­ish its oth­er­world­li­ness. When the train rum­bles

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.