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Fight Over Environmental Impact of ‘Maglev’ High-Speed Rail

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Developers are proposing to build a high-speed, magnetic levitation train line between Baltimore and Washington. The $13 billion Maglev project is designed to cut the hour-long train trip to a mere 15 minutes, with trains travelling at more than 300 miles an hour.

The train line – to be funded in part by the Japanese government and built by a company called Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail -- would use cutting-edge technology pioneered in Japan. Maglev trains use magnets to suspend a train in a U-shaped concrete guideway, so they travel without friction.

 

 

The proposal is being reviewed by the Federal Railroad Administration. Supporters praise the Maryland Maglev project -- which would run mostly underground along the Baltimore Washington Parkway corridor -- as a way to reduce highway traffic and emissions. It could also potentially boost the lagging economy of Baltimore, by making it easier for people to work in DC and commute to buy homes in Charm City.

But opponents criticize the rail line in part because its path could cut through the edge of Patuxent Research Refuge and other protected federal lands, disrupting wildlife habitat and wetlands.  Another possible route, running north of the Baltimore Washington Parkway, would run through a more suburban area.

An intense clash over the rail project has found a stage in the Maryland General Assembly. There, state Delegate Julian Ivey, a Democrat from Prince George’s County, has introduced a bill called the Stop Maglev Act of 2021.

Ivey testified during a recent hearing on the bill.

 “The proposals (for the Maglev train line) only include stops in Washington D..C, the City of Baltimore and at BWI,” Ivey said. “The project severely neglects the urgent need for updated and affordable public transportation in the area. However, the privately-proposed project does provide an alternative for high-income residents of Washington D.C. and Baltimore that commute between the two cities.”

Susan McCutcheon is with a citizens group called Bladensburg Residents Against the Maglev.

 “I support House Bill 704 (the Stop Maglev Act of 2021) because the siting proposed for this transportation project will irrevocably impinge on valuable and protected property,” said McCutcheon.

Wayne Rogers is Chairman of Baltimore Washington Rapid Rail. He said the “Not in My Back Yard” suburban effort to block the project – as expressed in the state legislation – is off-track, because the decision will be made, by law, at the federal level, by the Federal Railroad Administration, not by state lawmakers.

“The Stop the Maglev Act is an affront to a majority of Marylanders who seek opportunity and a future driven by superior infrastructure, a clean environment, and not traffic congestion, air pollution and climate change,” said Rogers.

Because the train line would end in the long-neglected, majority African American Cherry Hill neighborhood of south Baltimore, some civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, are supporting the construction project for its economic development potential.

This is Jason Rodriquez of the National Action Network, founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton.

“It represents jobs, businesses, development opportunities, community growth for millions along the Northeast corridor,” said Rodriquez, alluding to the fact that the next phase of the Maglev project could connect Baltimore to New York City.

Although it remains unclear whether the Maglev project will ever receive funding or approval, supporters say its potential to disrupt some wildlife habitat needs to be balanced against its greater potential to boost human lives, jobs and communities in the economic wilderness of Baltimore.

The Maryland General Assembly has yet to vote on the Stop Maglev Act. The Federal Railroad Administration is now accepting public comment on a draft environmental impact statement about the project through April 22.

To read the environmental impact statement and submit comments about it, visit: https://bwmaglev.info/project-documents/deis

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The Environment in Focus is independently owned and distributed by Environment in Focus Radio to WYPR and other stations. The program is sponsored by the Abell Foundation. The views expressed are solely Tom Pelton's. You can contact him at pelton.tom@gmail.com.

 
 

Tom Pelton, a national award-winning environmental journalist, has hosted "The Environment in Focus" since 2007. He also works as director of communications for the Environmental Integrity Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to holding polluters and governments accountable to protect public health. From 1997 until 2008, he was a journalist for The Baltimore Sun, where he was twice named one of the best environmental reporters in America by the Society of Environmental Journalists.