The District’s Mount Vernon Square area is in the running to be the home of the proposed high-speed maglev train that would take passengers from the nation’s capital to Baltimore in 15 minutes.
Project officials have settled on putting the maglev station in the trendy Northwest neighborhood that was once known for its run-down parking lots but now is a popular destination with condos, shopping and restaurants.
In Baltimore, project officials have yet to settle on having the maglev station in the Inner Harbor or in an area of South Baltimore that is slated for development, according to a new project report that puts the high-speed rail line that much closer to construction.
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.
Once built, proponents say, it 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 free it of the delays that plague today’s railroads. The maglev would travel at 311 mph, project officials said.
“This is a transformational change to this corridor, and it’s long past due,” said David Henley, project director for Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail, which would develop and operate the train.
Building the D.C.-Baltimore stretch could cost between $10 billion and $12 billion. 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 report released Thursday by the team conducting a federal environmental review offered more details about the two potential routes under consideration and the three planned stops: one in each city and at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport. The train would not stop in communities between Baltimore and Washington.
The two routes are parallel to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. On the east side of the highway, the route would encroach on federal land, including the parkway, the National Security Agency at Fort Meade and NASA in Greenbelt. Northeast Maglev officials say this is their preferred option. On the west side, the rail line would track along the edge of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway right of way and affect some residential properties.
About 75 percent of the route would run underground — 80 feet to 260 feet below, according to project documents.
Two locations have been identified in the Mount Vernon Square area for an underground station that could connect to one or more Metro stations via an underground tunnel.
The sites — one east and the other west of Mount Vernon Square — are 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.
Building the station there would affect an area along New York Avenue from 6th to 12th streets NW, according to the report, but it’s not expected to require the takeover of public or commercial property.
If built west of Mount Vernon Square, the station would be below New York Avenue NW, with an entrance between 11th and 12th streets and a potential second access point from the northwest quadrant of the intersection of 7th and K streets.
If built east of Mount Vernon Square, the station would also be below New York Avenue and have an entrance at or near the Carnegie Library. A second access would be from Massachusetts Avenue, between 5th and 6th streets near Chinatown Park.
The report discarded an option to put the maglev stop in the NoMa neighborhood, where it would have connected to Metro’s Red Line with easy access to Union Station. That option, the report concluded, offered poor connectivity with Metro — close to only one station, NoMa-Gallaudet. And it was problematic for construction because of its proximity to Amtrak facilities. Also, being close to the intersection of New York and Florida avenues was viewed as a down side because of heavy congestion in the area that would have made it difficult for people to access the station.
In Baltimore, the choices are between Camden Yards in the Inner Harbor and the Cherry Hill neighborhood in South Baltimore. The Camden Yards option is closer to downtown Baltimore and accessible to MARC, light-rail and buses.
But the Cherry Hill site offers opportunity for development in 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. The site would have a direct connection to the Maryland Transit Administration’s Cherry Hill light-rail station, and project officials say there is opportunity for a shuttle service to downtown as well as a water ferry to the Inner Harbor.
At BWI, an underground station would connect to the airport terminal and provide access to the BWI stop on the state’s light-rail system, as well as bus lines that serve the airport. Construction would temporarily affect the airport’s road network, according to the report.
These options will be studied further as part of the federal environmental review process that is anticipated to be completed in early 2020. The Federal Railroad Administration, which is leading study, is on pace to select a preferred route and construction process next year. The federal government’s next step would be giving clearance for tunneling to begin as early as the fall of 2020 and operations in 2027. But while the FRA could give the project the green light, it also could rule against building it.