The 40-mile “superconducting magnetic levitation train system,” commonly called a maglev, is planned as the first leg of a system that would carry passengers from Washington to New York in an hour. D.C. leaders are urging public engagement during the planning process, but the city has not officially taken a position on the project.
Proponents of the project say a maglev could ease travel along congested Interstate 95 by adding rail capacity to the Northeast Corridor — the nation’s busiest rail network. The technology, being tested in Japan, would also revolutionize train travel in the country and operate separately from existing railroad lines.
The maglev would travel at 311 mph, project officials said.
Building the D.C.-Baltimore stretch could cost between $14 billion and $16 billion, according to a recent report by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which is leading the federal environmental review for the project. The planned line would make three stops: one in each city and at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport.
The FRA is on pace to select a preferred route and issue a final recommendation for the project that could give crews clearance to begin tunneling as early as next year and begin operations in 2030.
The Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail, which would develop and operate the train, has proposed to bring the new station to the trendy Northwest D.C. neighborhood, which was once known for its run-down parking lots but now is a popular home to condos, shops and restaurants.
If built east of Mount Vernon Square, the station would be below New York Avenue between 7th Street NW and 4th Street NW, with an entrance at or near the Carnegie Library or from Massachusetts Avenue at Chinatown Park or New York Avenue, according to the FRA report released earlier this month.
The site is steps from the Washington Convention Center and six Metro lines at Gallery Place, Metro Center and Mount Vernon Square. It’s also an area with a robust network of bus lines and close to the proposed expansion of the D.C. Streetcar.
Discussions about putting the station in the NoMa neighborhood — where it would have connected to Metro’s Red Line with easy access to Union Station — were halted earlier in the review process. The project’s proponents said Mount Vernon Square is better suited for the high-speed train because of its connection to a larger transit network.
In Baltimore, the proposal lays out two possible locations for a station: Camden Yards in the Inner Harbor and the Cherry Hill neighborhood in south Baltimore.
The Camden Yards option is closer to downtown and accessible to MARC, light rail and buses. The Cherry Hill site is near an area that hasn’t seen much investment and would be more easily accessed by riders getting to the station by car because it is less congested than downtown.
In towns across Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties, where the high-speed train would pass through, residents, civic associations and local governments overwhelmingly oppose the project. Some small towns have planned legal action, organizing protests and lobbying lawmakers to block the project.
“We ought to oppose it every time they mention it. We ought to knock it down,” Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) told Greenbelt City Council members during a Zoom meeting on Nov. 30.
“Can you imagine a train that travels a gazillion miles per hour comes through and tears up communities, and it doesn’t even stop here? There’s absolutely no benefit whatsoever to Prince George’s,” she said. “It is just very, very troubling and very disrespectful.”
The expected average fare to ride the maglev would be $60 for a one-way trip, according to estimates in an FRA analysis, although it could vary between $27 and $80 per trip. It would be more expensive than riding MARC or Amtrak.
Several business and labor groups have announced support for the project, citing the jobs and economic development potential. Four chambers of commerce — in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Northern Anne Arundel County and Prince George’s — endorsed the project in late 2019. The Maryland State Conference and several branches of the NAACP also have voiced support, citing jobs and business opportunities.
Baltimore and the Maryland Aviation Administration, which owns and operates BWI, have not taken a position on the project. Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott (D) said in a statement that the city is reviewing the proposal.
While the District also has not taken a position on the project, city leaders say they want to ensure that, if built, “there are not lasting negative consequences on Mount Vernon Square and the District.”
Building the maglev stop at the Mount Vernon Square location would require the acquisition of a portion of a park that borders New York Avenue, as well as two public parking lots. A five-level, 1,000-space parking garage would be built on-site as part of the project, according to project documents.
The maglev line “would increase vehicular traffic at intersections and pedestrian traffic on sidewalks” in the area around the station, according to the FRA report.
The D.C. planning office said it is reviewing the draft environmental impact statement that the FRA issued Jan. 15 to determine whether it adequately addresses broad concerns about impacts on the environment, land and consistency with the city’s development plans and long-range transportation goals.
Trueblood said the city would require the project to be effectively integrated into the neighborhood and adequately connected to other modes of transportation. He warned that the potential effects will be considerable.
“The connection between Downtown DC and Baltimore, with a possible extension to New York City, has the potential to considerably impact the District’s housing and office markets, its economy, nearby neighborhoods, as well as local and regional transportation networks,” Trueblood said in his statement.
In an October 2018 planning office letter to the FRA, the city agency said a project of this magnitude “has the potential to cause significant disruption” in the Mount Vernon Square location, which the agency said is among the most historically significant neighborhoods in the District and is nearly built out.
According to the federal draft environmental review, the project would yield financial benefits in construction and permanent jobs once operational. But construction would take a toll on residents and businesses on the route’s path.
“Temporary negative construction impacts to business revenues in the affected areas may be significant, ranging from $18.5 million to $311.3 million,” according to the report. “This decrease in business revenues is due to lane closures, traffic delays and limited accessibility that would reduce the number of people frequenting the area and supporting businesses.”
Northeast Maglev, the team of private investors behind the project and its sister company, Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail, says it has secured financial commitments, including $5 billion from Japan. Project officials have said they also would seek federal loans and grants.
The federal review of the project is expected to be completed this year. The FRA will be accepting comment on the draft report until April 22.
After that, the FRA will review the feedback and issue a final recommendation. While it could give the project the green light, it also could rule against building it.