CHEVERLY – Plans to bring “the fastest train in the world” to the Washington, D.C. corridor are slowly moving forward. Last week, Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail (BWRR) and its government partners held the second series of open houses to inform the community about their proposal to construct a superconducting maglev train between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. […]
CHEVERLY – Plans to bring “the fastest train in the world” to the Washington, D.C. corridor are slowly moving forward.
Last week, Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail (BWRR) and its government partners held the second series of open houses to inform the community about their proposal to construct a superconducting maglev train between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. This set of meetings included information about potential train routes (called alignments) that are under study. Two of the five meetings were held in Prince George’s County, with one in Bowie and one in Cheverly.
“We wanted major population centers,” said David Henley, project director at BWRR, describing how the meeting locations were chosen. “The bookends would be D.C. and Baltimore, and then we picked areas that would be between that sort of made sense from a population point of view and that had facilities that would work.”
Interested residents had the opportunity to view information boards and pose questions to BWRR and other partners on the project, which include the Maryland Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The Maryland Transit Administration will also be involved, as the agency in charge of environmental oversight on the project, said spokesman Paul Shepard.
“The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) is facilitating this private-sector project led by the Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail,” he said. “MDOT’s role is to administer the $27.8 million grant funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration. As part of this role, MDOT’s Maryland Transit Administration is overseeing the National Environmental Policy Act process.”
The train, which uses Japanese technology, would allow travel between D.C. and Baltimore in 15 minutes thanks to its 311 miles-per-hour speed. The speed is possible using magnetic levitation technology, which elevates the train about 10 centimeters above the track, reducing friction.
However, the train requires very precise specifications for the track to operate safely and efficiently. In total, the guideway is about 46 feet wide with two travel lanes, and can accommodate a maximum slope of 4 percent. There is also a minimum 26,300-foot curve radius required, but engineers prefer more than 50,000 feet, according to information boards at the open house. In other words, as Henley said, the track must be “very straight.”
BWRR has already completed the first level of screening for potential route alignments. The alignment was not retained as an option if it would not allow for the required track geometries, would not meet the 15 minute travel time goal, would preclude other construction projects or impact existing infrastructure, like D.C. Metrorail. After the first round, five options were discarded.
The remaining options will be included in additional studies, alongside three new alternatives. The alignments being considered are one that roughly follows existing AMTRAK train lines, one that runs roughly parallel to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, one that roughly follows the Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis railroad route, and three hybrid routes: two with parts of the AMTRAK and WB&A routes and one that modifies the BW Parkway route by swinging to the east north of Greenbelt.
Check out this story on The Sentinel’s website, www.thesentinel.com/pgs, for a map of the train routes under study.
The analysis will also look at a no-build option to serve as comparison when evaluating the potential effects of the train.
Large portions of the routes are currently projected to be underground. Potential tunnels in the county could run from near NASA Goddard into D.C. and from the Landover area to D.C., depending on which route is selected. The other areas would be above ground, but not at-grade.
Open house attendees had the option to comment on the preliminary initial alternatives, as well as other aspects of the project.
“I want to get feedback that conveys any support, any productive criticism, any observations that could help us shape the project in a way that makes it a better project,” Henley said. “As long as it’s honest feedback, it’s going to help us.”
Now, project engineers will focus on Level 2 Screening, which looks at impacts of the alignment on residences, commercial properties, parkland, historic sites or environmental areas, as well as low-income and minority populations. Other operational considerations will also be taken into account in the analysis, which will be presented at public meetings in May. Then, FRA and MDOT will prepare a draft environmental impact statement with their preferred alternative in winter 2018, with additional public hearings at that time.
Currently, BWRR plans to have only three stops on their train line, one in Baltimore, one in D.C. and one at BWI airport for the first phase, but planners envision that the line could eventually extend all the way to New York City.
“There’s been study after study after study since the ‘60s that evidenced that due to infrastructure inefficiencies and decay and neglect, as well as growing population, the capacity for the current infrastructure- whether it’s highway, rail or aviation, is not going to meet the future demands. It’s not meeting the demands now,” Henley said. He added that this type of connectivity is needed to meet the demands of a “vibrant, demanding region” that drives one out of every five dollars in the country’s economy.
“This is an investment in bettering their lives, bettering the lives of future generations. It’s an opportunity for jobs, economic development,” Henley said.