Baltimore/DC vs. Pittsburgh for Maglev Transportation

a Chronicle staff report
       IMAGINE getting to d.c. from Baltimore in less than 20 minutes.

       Sounds like science fiction? It’s not. The Maglev (for “magnetic levitation”) vehicle exists now. It’s operating as a demonstration project in Germany, and it’s about to be built in China, where it will link downtown Shanghai with the city’s outlying Pudong international airport.

       The Baltimore-Washington corridor and the Pittsburgh region are now in a dead heat to determine who will be awarded the federal contract for the Maglev. Their proposals won over five other finalists: Atlanta, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and the Port Canaveral region in Florida.

       According to Tony Brown, the MTA’s project development manager, one reason the two finalists were selected is that their routes are extensible. The Baltimore-Washington route could extend north to Boston and south to Charlotte, while Pittsburgh’s would extend to Harrisburg and then Philadelphia.

       The Maglev, whose technology has been developed by Transrapid, a German company, has no toxic emissions. If it were operational between Baltimore and Washington, transportation officials estimate it will reduce auto traffic by 30,000 vehicles per day.

       With Maglev vehicles operating along a double track 18 hours a day, seven days a week, an estimated 12.9 million passengers could be making the trip annually by 2010, when the system would be fully operational. Preliminary fares are estimated at $6.90 between Baltimore and BWI, and $26.25 from Baltimore to Washington’s Union Station.

       The Maglev comes at a high cost. If Maryland is awarded the contract, the Federal Railroad Administration would fund $950 million of the cost, with the balance of $3.3 to $3.6 billion to be paid for by state and local governments, by such means as revenue bonds.

       This cost contrasts with $2 billion for a B-2 bomber and $500 million for the Ravens stadium.

       Mr. Brown cites several important benefits of having the Maglev: “We’d have more livable cities, we’d increase housing and employment opportunities, there’d be a freight use component, and we’d be better able to attract high-tech industries,” he said. Tourism could also be expected to increase.

       The federal decision between Baltimore/Washington and Pittsburgh is expected in early 2003. In the meantime, the MTA is preparing a detailed environmental impact statement, as required by the federal government. This alone will cost $9 million, with one-third of the cost paid by the state and the balance by federal sources. Though the route between Baltimore and Washington will be more level—and therefore presumably less costly to develop—than Pittsburgh’s, Mr. Brown cautioned that there are still plenty of environmental and engineering concerns, such as how to handle stream crossings.

       In three to six months, the MTA will begin a series of public meetings about the Maglev. “The public will be able to help the MTA arrive at the best solution,” said Mr. Brown. “And we will provide them with information on the issues.”


For more information about the Maglev project, see the MTA’s website at and click on the Maglev logo. Those without internet access can call 410-767-3751 and request a copy of the executive summary of the Maglev Project Description.

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This story was published on January 31, 2001.