Washington to New York City in 60 minutes by train


Central Japan Railway Co.’s magnetic levitation train running at 311 miles per hour. (Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg)
July 15, 2012

A small privately owned Washington company is lobbying to develop a high-speed rail system that would take passengers from the District to Baltimore in 15 minutes and to New York in an hour.

The Northeast Maglev, a downtown D.C. firm with 30 employees, is working with Central Japan Railway Co. — which operates the Shinkansen bullet train in Japan — to develop a maglev network that would connect Washington and New York, with stops in Baltimore, Wilmington and Philadelphia, including BWI Airport, Philadelphia International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport. Eventually, the company wants to extend the line to Boston.

Trains that use maglev technology, or magnetic levitation, typically travel faster than traditional rail — Shanghai’s maglev train runs at an average of at least 139 miles per hour, compared to Acela Express that runs at an average 84 miles per hour. The only commercial maglev lines are in Aichi, Japan, and Shanghai. Maglev vehicles are suspended above the track and use magnetic propulsion.

The project is unrelated to a proposal by Amtrak to build a high-speed rail system in the region by 2040. Amtrak, which runs the Acela Express, last week released a $151 billion proposal to redevelop and build out a high-speed rail network that would enable travel between Philadelphia and New York in 37 minutes, and between Washington and New York in 94 minutes.

It is not the first time there’s been an interest in building a maglev system in the Northeast, but previous attempts were halted by lack of support from lawmakers and funding shortfalls. In 2001, officials with the Maryland Department of Transportation, the District of Columbia, Baltimore, Baltimore County and the Maryland Transit Administration formed the Baltimore-Washington Maglev Project, which competed for Federal Railroad Administration consideration to develop a 39-mile maglev line linking Camden Yard in Baltimore, BWI Airport and Union Station in D.C. But the project, which in 2007 was estimated to cost $5.1 billion, was cost-prohibitive and lacked legislative support, Maryland Transit Administration spokesman Terry Owens said.

Owens said Northeast Maglev has not yet met with anyone at MTA.

The Northeast Maglev project is still in its infancy, according to an attorney advising the company on regulatory and governmental issues.

“It hasn’t launched all the way yet,” said John Merrigan, who co-chairs the lobbying practice at DLA Piper, one of three lobbying firms Northeast Maglev has hired since March to track legislation impacting magnetic levitation transportation, including the transportation bill President Obama signed July 6. The two other lobbying firms are American Defense International and Commonwealth Research Associates, to whom the company has paid $10,000 and $8,400 in lobbying fees, respectively.

A spokeswoman for Northeast Maglev said it is “too early to discuss project details” and declined to comment on potential funding sources or a timeline for the project, saying only that company leaders are meeting with officials.

“The Northeast Corridor is an economic powerhouse, but gridlock threatens to constrain growth,” the company said in a statement. “It’s time for America to harness technology that is faster, cleaner and safer ... we believe that as the U.S. looks at transportation solutions to meet growing demand, it makes sense to invest in the most advanced technology that is proven and available.”

Northeast Maglev is not affiliated with Maglev Inc., the Pennsylvania company that, prior to declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2011, wanted to develop a maglev train from Pittsburgh International Airport to Greensburg, Penn.

An Amtrak spokesman said he has not seen Northeast Maglev’s plans.

One of the lobbyists affiliated with the project, Chris Brady of Commonwealth Research, agreed to pay $300 last month to settle a complaint brought by a Georgia government watchdog group before the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission.

The watchdog group accused Brady of paying $17,000 for House Speaker David Ralston and his family to take a trip to Europe in 2010 without first registering as a lobbyist in Georgia that year. Brady, whose firm has lobbied for a maglev line between Atlanta and Chattanooga, missed the deadline to file disclosure reports required of lobbyists, the commission found. Brady’s attorney said he agreed to pay $300 to settle the matter, but denied wrongdoing.

Catherine Ho covers law and lobbying for Capital Business, which she joined in 2011. She was previously a reporter at the Daily Journal in Los Angeles, covering LA civil courts and labor and employment law.
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