Here we go again...
Maglev is back, tantalizing Marylanders with the promise of speeds that could whisk train passengers from Baltimore to Washington in 15 minutes.
What is billed as a new generation of magnetic levitation technology is at the heart of the latest proposal, the first step in what would eventually be a line taking passengers from Washington to New York in 60 minutes at a cruising speed of 311 mph.
The proposal resurrects a technology that seemed to be the next big thing in the late 1990s and early 2000s before fizzling out amid concerns over its cost, the difficulty of putting together a suitable route and its potential effect on neighbors.
Many of those hurdles remain, but an investment group headed by a former chair of the Maryland Democratic Party and backed by former politicians of both parties is pushing a new version of maglev. The group is seeking financial, community and political support for a project called TNEM — for The Northeast Maglev.
“The technology itself has progressed,” Wayne Rogers, chairman of TNEM and a former state Democratic chairman, said in a presentation to The Baltimore Sun this week. “We as Americans never picked up on it.”
Supporters of the maglev concept have long seen it as a game-changer for Baltimore, bringing the city closer to the capital and making it a more attractive place for businesses that deal with the federal government to locate. The latest proposal includes stops in the city and at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
Whether the United States will embrace the project any more warmly than it did in the early 2000s, when then-Mayor Martin O’Malley and others were intrigued by the prospect, is debatable. Even if the technology operates superbly, the project faces numerous obstacles.
Rogers, chairman of the Synergics energy company in Annapolis, estimated that building the Baltimore-D.C. segment alone would require “somewhere north of $10 billion.” But the extensive tunneling that would put more than 30 of its roughly 40 miles underground, avoiding Linthicum and other neighborhoods affected by an earlier plan, could drive the cost higher. By Rogers’ own estimates, tunneling costs alone could reach $4.5 billion to $6 billion.
Unlike past proposals, the TNEM group says it can count on financing from a Japanese government bank, reflecting Tokyo’s eagerness to launch the new superconducting maglev technology — developed by Japan Central Railroad — in the U.S. Northeast Corridor.