A superconducting Magnetic Levitation (SCMAGLEV) train may one day swooshing by at 311 miles per hour, underneath significant portions of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

One proposal calls for the facility to store these SCMAGLEV trains to be located at the intersection of the Baltimore-Washington (B-W) Parkway (Route 295) and Route 198.

Construction of the more than $10 billion project could take place on the outskirts of the Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, which is on federal land.

Train rendering. Photo courtesy SCMAGLEV Project.

The proposed guideway for the SCMAGLEV, said Sam Droege, a wildlife biologist who works on the property, “seems to simply be the most direct route from point A to point B (between Baltimore and Washington) that doesn’t impact privately-owned land, with little regard to the environment.”

He noted, “There has never been a transfer of federal land to a private corporation to build a project.”

Affected federal properties between Laurel and Washington, may include Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), Beltsville Agriculture Research Center (BARC), the National Security Agency and a U.S. Secret Service facility.

Route Cause

A key issue regarding building the SCMAGLEV is the same issue that builders and developers commonly encounter – the lack of available land.

As its planned today, the guideway, as it’s called, would run 80 to 120 feet above the B-W Parkway.

The undeveloped spaces in the Corridor, such as the Refuge, the area around the B-W Parkway, which is owned by the National Park Service, BARC and Bladensburg Waterfront Park, “have almost all of the intact flora and fauna from 250 years ago,” said Droege.

Droege cited the new Frederick to Shady Grove monorail study by the Maryland Department of Transportation that revealed building that system would reduce traffic on Route 270 by less than one percent. It also stated that it would gain most of its ridership from citizens who already use other public transportation.

Droege said SCMAGLEV organization “won’t offer data” to two of the citizen’s organizations that express strong opposition, Friends of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Refuge and the Maryland Coalition for Responsible Transit.

“What’s been an issue throughout this process,” he said, “is finding out how SCMAGLEV arrives at its figures for cost of the system, energy consumption, ridership, commuter trip costs,” he said.

Cost Question

Next, there is the issue of the SCMAGLEV organization wanting to build the project on federally-protected land.

“There is zero benefit to doing so,” said Droege.

Where such a project should be built, he said, is through an industrial area such as South Baltimore, not on national park land.

“There is already such a dearth of available land in the area for such a big project that the SCMAGLEV can’t run along Route 95 since most of it has been developed,” he said.

He also noted that these issues don’t seem to arise “in rich, white neighborhoods, such as the Route 95 Corridor, but more so in green areas and where people of color live.”

Stephanie Kaufman, a board member of the Friends group, pointed out that the Refuge has already been preserved for more than 75 years to conduct research on wildlife.

Kaufman also took issue with the width of the right-of-way that would be required for the Guideway because it would be “almost twice that of both lanes the B-W Parkway, at about 300 feet,” she said. “Plus, the area around Refuge would need to be elevated.”

However, her concerns extend beyond the environmental impact.

“It’s unprecedented that a private concern wants to take land from not just one federal property but several,” she said, “and use its land to build an unproven technology, especially when there are still questions about ridership and need.”

Data Requested

The response about possible construction of the SCMAGLEV from GSFC, part of which could be chosen as the site for the train storage facility, is one of concern, said spokesperson Dewayne Washington.

He said, “[GSFC] is concerned about the impacts of [SCMAGLEV] to operations at the Goddard Geophysical and Astronomical Observatory (GGAO) from the potential location of a Trainset Maintenance Facility near GGAO, particularly the one on the [BARC] property at the old airstrip off Springfield Road.”

From the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s North Atlantic-Appalachian Region office, spokesperson David Eisenhauer said, “The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will voice its opinion when it submits written comments on the draft environmental impact statement.” The public comment section for which was just extended to late May.

Wayne Rogers, the chairman and CEO for Northeast Maglev, explained how and why he feels the SCMAGLEV should be built.

Rogers cited the 2019 Urban Mobility Scorecard from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, which revealed that in 1982 the average commuter spent 30 hours a year stuck in traffic and today that number has reached 102 hours. That costs the average commuter $2,100 in extra expenses.

“If we look ahead to 2040, when there will be a 22 percent increase in traffic,” queried Rogers, “What might the delay be by then?”

Rogers said the rail line, which may take seven years of construction, “will be about 70 percent underground.”

When building a project of such magnitude, he said, “The biggest issue is condemning property and taking people’s homes. We’ve worked hard for 10 years to come up with a way to move people at 300 miles per hour without taking a single residence. That’s why the SCMAGLEV organization came to choose the Route 295 Corridor.”

He said, “Going through federal property is how we can avoid taking anyone’s home,” noting the tunnels would be about “200 feet underground, which is way deeper than Washington’s Metro is buried. There will be no vibration, no noise and no impacts whatsoever.”

Concerning any negative effects to Patuxent Research Refuge, Rogers said that since the Refuge runs up against Route 295 – “and not through it” – adding the SCMAGLEV along the highway “is simply like adding eight lanes for traffic but in this case it’s only one for the rail line.”

He said, “If you count every acre of land the SCMAGLEV would take from the Refuge, it comes to .02 percent. That’s roughly 20 acres of 13,000 acres. So, it’s an overstatement to say that it would irrevocably damaging the refuge. The train won’t hurt it any more than Route 295 does and it would reduce traffic on highway by 9 percent to 12 percent.”

Regarding station locations, Rogers said from the BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport stop, commuters will be able to reach the Baltimore station in the Cherry Hill/Westport area off of Russell Street in five minutes; reaching the stop that’s planned near the Washington Convention Center will take eight minutes.

The cost per trip from one downtown to the other “has not been determined because it depends on the final alignment,” he said, “but one-way will cost less than $40.”

New Precedent?

The information will be welcome to SCMAGLEV’s opponents, as the organization “has been close to the chest about their plans and its impacts,” said Rich Dolesh, board chair of The Friends.

“SCMAGLEV’s plans have been made public but are deficient in certain ways,” said Dolesh.

“Frequently, no verified or validated information is offered by SCMAGLEV.”

Droege is concerned because it sets a bad precedent. He said, “Federal parks will be viewed as building zones, not natural areas.”

By Mark R. Smith | Senior Writer | The Business Monthly | May 2021 Issue