“We are willing to do whatever it takes and spend whatever it takes within reason to defend our residents’ interest as it relates to stopping this maglev,” Mayor Colin Byrd said.
Last month, Greenbelt issued a request for services to attorneys and law firms willing to take on the fight.
In towns across Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties, where the high-speed train would pass through, residents, civic associations and local governments are weighing options to derail the plan, from legal action to organizing protests and lobbying lawmakers to block the project.
The high-speed superconducting magnetic levitation system, many say, offers little benefit to communities in the D.C. area because it would stop only in Washington, Baltimore and at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport.
But construction would have a direct impact on the neighborhoods in between those stops. Heavy machinery has already been brought in along the route where soil testing is being done to check conditions for tunneling or supporting viaducts, project officials said. Emergency exits and ventilation stations would go in some of those towns, requiring drilling as deep as 150 feet.
The train would run underneath and in proximity to homes, schools and recreational facilities. Some residents say it’s still unclear how deep the tunnel would be. Northeast Maglev, the company behind the project, says depth will depend on location — from 80 feet to more than 200 feet — but says the train, traveling as fast as 311 mph, won’t be felt at the surface, nor does the company expect vibration or structural damage.
“We are even deeper underground than the Metro,” Wayne Rogers, chief executive of Northeast Maglev, said. “We hope that through time, through engagement, through information, we will be able to allay all of the fears that people in local towns have. . . . We are spending a lot of time making sure that the impacts are minimal.”
Project officials said that during deep-tunneling construction, monitoring equipment will be deployed along the route to detect any “unanticipated levels of vibration,” adding, “tunnel construction at this depth has been completed around the world without any surface disruption or vibration.”
The two potential routes under consideration run 75 percent underground, Rogers said. The routes parallel the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, and touch on towns including Bladensburg, Greenbelt, Laurel and Linthicum. 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.
The maglev system, tested in Japan, harnesses powerful magnetic forces that lift and propel trains four inches above a U-shaped guideway at speeds up to 375 mph.
Planned as the first leg of a system that would move people between Washington and New York in an hour, the 40-mile rail line between the District and Baltimore could cost between $10 billion and $12 billion, of which Northeast Maglev has said it has secured $5 billion from Japan.
The Federal Railroad Administration is conducting a study of the environmental impacts and a draft is expected in early 2020, with a final recommendation also this year. The review, however, was paused to give Northeast Maglev time to answer questions about its design and engineering.
Rogers said then that the company was working to provide the “answers necessary” to move the environmental impact statement forward. If the FRA gives clearance for tunneling this year, construction could begin in 2021 and operations in 2028.
In Greenbelt, where officials say residents are overwhelmingly opposed to the project, the plan is to have a dedicated legal team ready by spring to challenge the proposal.
“There’s a lot of questions they have not answered,” said Susan McCutchen, 65, a resident of Bladensburg, a community near the D.C. border where plans call for a multistory ventilation station. McCutchen, who is a member of Citizens Against This SCMaglev, said low- and middle-income families on the path of the project would be most affected by the construction without seeing any of the benefits.
“These are towns; these are not just places where you stick stuff,” McCutchen said.
Rogers said even those who don’t ride the train will benefit from the project that he estimates will take 16 million car trips off the highways and ease the region’s traffic congestion.
“Each of the people that will be riding the train won’t be riding on your neighborhood highways,” he said.
Proponents also estimate the project will create 74,000 construction jobs during the seven-year building period and 1,500 permanent positions once the system is operational.
Several powerful business and labor groups have announced support for the project, citing the jobs and economic development potential.
Four chambers of commerce — Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Northern Anne Arundel County, and Prince George’s — endorsed the project in early December. The Maryland State Conference and several branches of the NAACP voiced support for the project in June, also citing jobs and business opportunities.
“We are excited to see a new mode of transportation that will not only relieve road congestion, but also create jobs for county residents,” said Tom Balsamo, president of the Northern Anne Arundel County chamber.
One of two proposed routes would take the train underneath Windsor Green, a community of about 650 townhouses off Greenbelt Road where “everyone is against it,” said Patricia Sandidge, the on-site community manager. Just over a year ago, a Northeast Maglev crew camped outside the Windsor Green community center with heavy machinery, drilling into the soil as part of the early surveying work. But Sandidge and residents were concerned, and a Greenbelt public works official halted the operation, citing a lack of permits.
“It seems no matter what the citizens want, it’s going to happen,” said Carol Malveaux, 68, who has lived at Windsor Green with her husband, Murray, since the complex opened more than three decades ago. The Malveauxes say any money spent on the project should instead go to public transit and schools.
“Why should we support this? Our children are not going to benefit. The county is not going to benefit. Who is going to benefit?” she said.
North of Greenbelt, Laurel Mayor Craig Moe wrote to Gov. Larry Hogan (R) last year urging him to kill the project that Moe said will “cut through Prince George’s County, taking people’s homes and land while seriously damaging our environment.
The project has Hogan’s backing and the state received a $28 million federal grant to cover impact studies.
Some 18 miles northeast, in Anne Arundel County, the Linthicum-Shipley Improvement Association, representing more than 3,000 households near BWI, has been actively lobbying the state to kill the project for the past two years.
“We have not changed our position,” said Dan Woomer, the association’s vice president.
Residents all along the proposed route have “STOP THE MAGLEV TRAIN” signs in their yards, and the project is the subject of council and homeowners associations meetings. Some say they won’t stop until it is derailed.
“It would be a disaster for Prince George’s County; it would be a disaster for Greenbelt,” said Byrd, 27, the Greenbelt mayor who grew up in the city. “The purpose of bringing this legal counsel is to avert that disaster. The courtroom may be where that aversion takes place.”