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The Maglev’s Diminishing Prospects

A status update on the Baltimore-Washington maglev proposal, 17 months after the federal government halted its environmental review

The maglev 17 months after the environmental review halted

On November 14, 2022, a maglev representative spoke at NASA Goddard in Greenbelt, and he seemed inexplicably confident that the proposed maglev would be built between Baltimore and Washington. This blog post examines his statements for clues about why he was so confident. The maglev proposal has been stalled for more than a year.1

Back in August 2021, federal regulators paused the environmental review for the superconducting magnetic-levitation rail line that a private company wants to build between Baltimore and Washington, DC. Since then, federal regulators have not stated when they will restart the environmental review, giving the impression that the review might be permanently halted. Only if the federal review were restarted and favorably concluded, then the project would again be on track for possible construction approval and funding.2

Background

The November 14 presentation at NASA Goddard was sufficient to win over at least one audience member who had never heard of the proposed maglev before. Afterward, he said, “My only question is how soon can I ride it.”

Audience members already familiar with the Baltimore-Washington maglev proposal found some of the statements odd that were made at the November 14 NASA seminar. Particularly baffling was the confidence that one of the seminar speakers expressed that the maglev would be built.

To put the maglev proposal in context, consider that a maglev is a kind of high-speed train, and since 2000, the Acela high-speed train has connected Washington and Baltimore with continuing service to Boston.3

By examining Acela’s past ridership and expected future ridership, we can make an educated guess of how successful a Baltimore-Washington maglev could be. The short answer is that very few people use Acela to travel specifically between Baltimore and Washington. Instead, the great majority of the millions of trips made on Acela are longer trips. Meanwhile, the great majority of the millions of trips made between Baltimore and Washington are made by car, with the second-most-popular option being the slow but inexpensive commuter train.4

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, there were just 48 one-way Acela tickets sold per day on average, if you count passengers embarking at Washington Union Station and disembarking at Baltimore’s Penn station and also those passengers making the trip in the reverse direction.

Without considering the possibility of a maglev being built, Amtrak forecasted that 80 one-way passenger-trips per day would be made in 2040 between these stations on the Acela high-speed train.5

If Acela and the proposed maglev were similarly attractive options, then the simplest approach to forecasting maglev ridership would be to split up the forecasted Acela riders between Acela and the maglev. Without having to be precise, such an estimate provides a sanity check on the maglev’s official ridership forecast that was used in its 2021 draft environmental impact statement. The maglev is somewhat faster than Acela and is expected to have more departures per day than Acela, but maglev tickets would be more than three times as expensive as Acela tickets. Some of these factors are explored in Appendix A in the PDF version of this blog post and Figure 1 below.6

However you split 80 one-way passenger-trips per day between Acela and the maglev, there are nowhere near enough riders to justify spending $17 billion to build a maglev line between Washington and Baltimore. The Acela line still makes sense, however, because so many people make long-distance trips on it between Washington and Boston.7

During the public-comment period that ended in May 2021, a number of people criticized the maglev’s draft environmental impact statement for basing its calculations on a wild overestimate of the maglev’s likely ridership. As explored in Appendix A of the present blog post, one line of reasoning finds that the maglev’s official ridership forecast is a thousand times higher than can be justified.8

In 2021, people also pointed out that the maglev would increase greenhouse gas emissions and have a ticket price too high for most people to afford. On November 14, 2022, various critiques of the maglev resurfaced during the seminar at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, as described below.9

Figure 1. Plot of ridership vs. travel cost

Figure 1. The forecasted maglev ridership and passenger cost are outliers compared with forecasts for the Amtrak Acela high-speed train and other forms of transportation between Baltimore and Washington, DC. For the data sources, see Appendix A of the PDF version of this blog post.

Confidence: Well-founded or Fanciful?

One of the two speakers at the November 14, 2022, NASA Engineering Colloquium was Tomoaki Seki, who was visiting from Japan. Mr. Seki works for the Central Japan Railway. This company has been developing superconducting maglev technology for the past thirty years.

Mr. Seki described maglev technology, including some of its strengths and weaknesses. The seminar’s other speaker, Ian Rainey, painted a rosy picture of the maglev’s benefits to society and tried to deflect audience criticism of the proposal.

When answering a question from the audience, Mr. Seki admitted that superconducting maglev technology had yet to be a commercial success despite the Japanese government funding research in this field since 1962. No rail line has ever operated commercially in Japan or anywhere else using superconducting maglev technology. The closest thing to a commercial superconducting-maglev line is the engineering test track in Japan. The test track has a single station and gives rides to tourists between tests.10

Mr. Seki described how the superconducting part of the train engine is extremely complex because it needs to use both liquid helium and liquid nitrogen to cool the magnets to within a few degrees of absolute zero. For this reason, the Central Japan Railway has developed an alternative magnet that becomes superconducting at a somewhat higher temperature. Mr. Seki mentioned that the Central Japan Railway has yet to establish the long-term reliability of the higher-temperature magnets, so they are still being tested on the maglev test track.11

The other speaker at the November 14 Engineering Colloquium was Ian Rainey, a representative of Baltimore Washington Rapid Rail (BWRR), the company that wants to build a maglev line between Baltimore and Washington. Mr. Rainey expressed optimism that the maglev would be built.

In his statements, Mr. Rainey carefully avoided claiming that the United States government had committed to restarting the maglev’s environmental review after halting it in August 2021. Mr. Rainey stated his “hope” that the environmental review would restart “in 2024,” but he added that the decision was “up to the federal government.”

Outside of the auditorium on November 14, Mr. Rainey told several audience members that, assuming a favorable environmental review and sufficient funding, there would be a design period and then a construction period of 7 to 10 years. In short, Mr. Rainey appeared confident that, in approximately 2035, BWRR would begin operating the maglev.

It is possible that Mr. Rainey has good reasons to be optimistic. Perhaps, BWRR has information that has not been shared with the public. Alternatively, Mr. Rainey may have been glossing over the maglev’s diminishing prospects.

Without a clear government pronouncement that the maglev project is terminated, it is prudent to examine Mr. Rainey’s statements for clues that the project is still a going concern and that the maglev would provide real benefit to the region. The rest of the present blog post attempts to do so.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

During the November 14 Engineering Colloquium, Mr. Rainey said that the maglev would “take 10 million cars off the road.” At first glance, this number sounds impressive, but actually it’s nonsense because there are only 5 million cars registered in Maryland. Even maglev proponents don’t expect the maglev to empty the roads.12

If Mr. Rainey had used the correct units of “car-trips” rather than “cars,” then his figure would have sounded less impressive and yet it may still be a gross overestimate of the maglev’s impact as previously discussed in the Background section. Mr. Rainey’s use of the wrong scientific unit was not necessarily an accident. The CEO of BWRR made the same error recently in testimony before Congress. The CEO said that the proposed maglev would take 16 million cars off the road.13

The maglev’s ability to reduce road congestion has been hotly debated in recent years, and this issue is important because it affects the maglev’s climate impact.

In response to an audience comment during the November 14 Engineering Colloquium, Rainey claimed the maglev would “tremendously” reduce greenhouse gas emissions because the maglev would take so many cars off the road.14

Mr. Rainey’s grand claim about the maglev’s climate impact is flatly contradicted by data in the maglev’s 2021 draft environmental impact statement (EIS). These data establish that the net effect of operating the Baltimore-Washington maglev would be to increase CO2 emissions by 286 to 336 million kilograms annually. According to the draft EIS’s data, generating the electricity to run the maglev would increase CO2 emissions by so much that it would more than cancel out the modest reduction in CO2 emissions from car drivers switching to riding the maglev. The federal government and State of Maryland are looking for ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the maglev would be a big step backward.15

The maglev’s climate impact would be even worse if the maglev’s ridership were lower than the official forecast that the Louis Berger consulting company generated in 2020. A lower ridership for the maglev would mean fewer car drivers would switch to riding the maglev. The maglev’s climate footprint cannot be reduced by running fewer maglev trains because the resulting longer lag between departures would likely reduce maglev ridership even more.

In addition, building the maglev’s track and other facilities would emit a large amount of CO2. Construction emission would be 249 to 721 million kilograms of CO2 or much more depending on the estimation method used.16

Independent Utility

During the November 14 Engineering Colloquium, an audience member asked if it were wise to study the pros and cons of a maglev line that would run between only Washington and Baltimore because Baltimore Washington Rapid Rail (BWRR) clearly wants to build the line from Washington to New York City. No environmental impact study has been initiated for the Washington-to-New-York-City route, and the federal government paused the review of the Washington-to-Baltimore segment in August 2021.17

The National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) does allow a regulatory agency to forecast the environmental impact of one part of a larger project, but only if that part has “independent utility.” This phrase applies to a transportation project that would “be usable and be a reasonable expenditure even if no additional transportation improvements in the area are made.” 18

Code of Federal Regulations, 23 CFR 711.111(f)

Figure 2. The figure shows the federal regulation that defines “independent utility” for a transportation project, 23 CFR 711.111(f).

Mr. Rainey claimed on November 14 that an unspecified programmatic environmental impact statement (EIS) provided the justification for studying a maglev between just Baltimore and Washington. To define the term, a programmatic EIS studies a large project, and it is sometimes called a tier-1 EIS. After a programmatic EIS is published, several documents are published that each focus on part of the overall project. Each of these more focused documents is called a tier-2 EIS.

Mr. Rainey does not name the programmatic EIS to which he is referring. A reasonable guess would be that he is referring to the only programmatic EIS ever written about maglevs. That document was published 22 years ago in 2001. This guess is only speculation because the 2021 draft EIS for the currently proposed Baltimore-Washington maglev does not explicitly claim to be a tier-2 EIS under any programmatic EIS.19

Furthermore, it seems a bit much for Mr. Rainey to expect us to believe that a document published in 2001 could accurately forecast the ridership, financial viability, and independent utility of the currently proposed superconducting Baltimore-Washington maglev in 2045. Using a document this old in this way would be like using a document written during the early days of the personal computer (the mid-1980s) to predict a social-media company’s prospects in 2030. Technology and society change considerably and in unexpected ways in about half a century.20

Worse yet for Mr. Rainey, this 22-year-old document, the 2001 programmatic EIS, did not state that a maglev between Baltimore and Washington would have independent utility. Instead, this old document merely stated that the Baltimore-Washington route was worth further study.21

If one looks elsewhere for evidence that a maglev between Baltimore and Washington would have independent utility, one comes up empty handed. It appears that no one has gotten around to publishing such a document.

In 2017, The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) stated that BWRR still needed to establish that a maglev between Baltimore and Washington would have independent utility. This FRA statement is found in a 2018 scoping report that is cited in the 2021 draft EIS for the Baltimore-Washington maglev. One can speculate that the FRA may have left it to BWRR to establish independent utility because the FRA itself felt that a 36-mile-long maglev between Baltimore and Washington would actually lack independent utility. In a 2005 document, the FRA did determine that any maglev line under 150 miles long would lack utility as a means for reducing road congestion.22

Between 2017 and now, it appears that neither BWRR nor the FRA ever got around to laying out evidence that a Baltimore-Washington maglev would have independent utility. The project’s 2018 scoping report contained literally one sentence on this topic, and that sentence sounds aspirational rather than declarative. Specifically, the maglev would “build upon previous efforts to provide a service between Baltimore and Washington that has independent utility.” Three years later, the maglev’s 2021 draft EIS made no mention of this topic.

Property Condemnation

During the November 14 Engineering Colloquium, Mr. Rainey said that Baltimore Washington Rapid Rail (BWRR) would build the maglev without condemning “a single private residence” in response to an audience question about how the maglev would impact communities along the track.

Mr. Rainey’s exact statement cannot be proven false at this time, but his statement does dance around an inconvenient fact. During the past decade, BWRR has proven itself to be pro-condemnation to an extreme degree.23

During 2014–2015, BWRR used an unconventional shortcut to obtain a powerful form of condemnation authority. BWRR did not wait for federal regulators to recommend maglev construction, for various authorities to approve maglev construction, or for Congress to pass a bill authorizing any needed property condemnation.

Instead, BWRR asked the Maryland Public Service Commission in 2014 to grant BWRR the right to condemn properties that BWRR found “convenient or necessary” for building a maglev. The Public Service Commission is actually a Maryland court, and it deals with certain transportation-related cases in Maryland.24

BWRR’s specific argument revolved around the fact that, long ago in 1912, the Maryland legislature granted a company a railroad franchise to build a railroad between Baltimore and Washington and to condemn land along that route. In 1935, that company ceased to exist without having built the railroad. In 2014, BWRR requested that the Public Service Commission transfer to BWRR the railroad franchise created by that 1912 legislative act.25

The staff of the Public Service Commission questioned the legality of BWRR’s request. First, the staff suggested that the transfer could not occur now because the Public Service Commission is permitted to transfer a railroad franchise only at the time that the initial company abandoned that franchise. In this case, the abandonment occurred decades ago.26

Second, the staff suggested that the transfer could only be made if BWRR were planning to provide an equivalent service to what the Maryland General Assembly authorized in 1912. In 1912, the plan was for an ordinary steel-wheel train, not a 300-mph superconducting maglev that uses different technology and has different risks.27

Despite its staff’s initial misgivings, the Public Service Commission did give BWRR condemnation authority in November 2015, subject to a few conditions.28

Another way in which BWRR’s pro-condemnation stance is extreme is that BWRR has been fighting in court to condemn 43 acres in Baltimore since June 2021. BWRR’s timing and its justification for the condemnation are questionable. Federal regulators have yet to approve maglev construction and the required $17 billion to construct the maglev has yet to be arranged.29

Future rendering of 43 acres in Baltimore

Figure 3. Forty-three contested acres in Baltimore, Maryland. In 2021, the CEO of Baltimore Washington Rapid Rail claimed in court that his company needed to take possession of these 43-acres of Baltimore waterfront property in order to build the maglev. The property is outlined in blue in this figure. The project’s draft environmental impact statement (EIS), however, showed no maglev-related construction planned for these 43 acres. This zoomed-in version of the figure from the EIS has additional text labels added in red and blue.

BWRR claimed that it needed to condemn 43 acres of land along the Baltimore waterfront, land on which the current owner was about to start constructing 1,500 residential units. In court, BWRR claimed that it needed specifically these 43 acres in order to build a maglev maintenance facility and maglev-related parking garage.30

The maglev’s 2021 draft environmental impact statement (EIS), however, contradicts BWRR’s claim. The diagrams and 3D renderings in the draft EIS show these 43 acres completely vacant, i.e., as a grassy field. The maglev parking and rail maintenance facilities would be located elsewhere.31

On November 14, 2022, Mr. Rainey’s claim at the NASA’s Engineering Colloquium that BWRR will not condemn a single residential property seems disingenuous considering his firm’s aggressive efforts to acquire and use condemnation authority. The preceding paragraphs have established this fact.

Perhaps, Mr. Rainey felt compelled to make such a tortured statement because his company fears the Maryland General Assembly’s views on the maglev and property condemnation. Each year starting in 2018, one or more bills to cancel or severely hamper the maglev have been introduced in the Maryland General Assembly. These bills are listed in Appendix B of PDF version of the present blog post. A number of these bills drew attention to BWRR’s condemnation authority. None of them have passed.

BWRR should fear the Maryland General Assembly because, the only other time that a maglev was proposed between Baltimore and Washington, it was the Maryland General Assembly that terminated the project. In 2003, the General Assembly terminated an earlier maglev proposal by cutting off funding for studying its environmental impact and designing it.32

maglev cost consideratinos

Figure 4. Another statement made about the maglev that leaves out important information, a pattern explored in the present blog post in statements made by Mr. Rainey on November 14, 2022, in his presentation at NASA Goddard. The above quote is from testimony that the BWRR CEO gave to the Maryland Public Service Commission while he was seeking the authority to condemn property. The missing information in the quote is supplied below it in the orange font: the maglev’s 2021 draft environmental impact statement (EIS) stated that the maglev ticket price would average $60 one-way per person in 2018 dollars. Correcting for inflation, the ticket cost would be $72 one-way per person or $576 for a family of four to make a round trip.

Conclusion

The proposed maglev rail line between Baltimore and Washington DC is unlikely to be built, based on publicly available information. Nonetheless, the company that wishes to build the maglev, Baltimore Washington Rapid Rail (BWRR), still expresses confidence that the maglev will be built.

During a seminar on November 14, 2022, held at NASA Goddard, a BWRR representative named Ian Rainey expressed optimism about the maglev’s prospects. He painted a rosy picture of the benefits that the maglev would provide. An analysis of Mr. Rainey’s statements on November 14 shows that some of them omit relevant information and others contradict official documents.

What is known for sure is that, back in August 2021, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) halted the Baltimore-Washington maglev’s environmental review. Since then, the FRA has not set a date for restarting the review. Meanwhile, independent analyses find that the maglev would attract far fewer riders than is predicted in the official ridership forecast. There is reason to question the advertised benefits of the maglev and its financially viability.

The proposal to build a maglev line between Baltimore and Washington appears to be dead in the water, but the company that wants to build it may have information that has not been shared with the public. Individuals who are concerned about the maglev should continue to monitor the situation and spread the word if anything develops.

Disclaimer: This analysis was performed by an area resident, acting in his capacity as an individual citizen to examine a non-partisan issue of interest to the public. If errors are suspected, please contact the author at okelley@gmu.edu. Prior phases of this analysis have been published in the Greenbelt Online blog,

References

Baltimore City Council, April 3, 2017: Completed Legislative File, Resolution/Bill 17-0004, Railway Franchise-Consent to Transfer. https://baltimore.legistar.com/Legislation.aspx.

Congressional Research Service, 2009: High Speed rail (HRS) in the United States. D. Randall, J. Frittelli, and W. J. Mallett, Report to Congress, 7-5700, R40973, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R40973.pdf.

Court of Special Appeals, Maryland, March 4, 2022: Baltimore Washington Rapid Rail, LLC v. Westport Capital Development, LLC. Opinion 983-2021. Discusses the Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case No. 24-C-21-002681, https://casetext.com/case/balt-wash-rapid-rail-llc-v-westport-capital-dev.

Federal Railroad Administration, 1997: High-speed Ground Transportation for America. 182 pp., https://railroads.dot.gov/sites/fra.dot.gov/files/fra_net/1177/cfs0997all2.pdf.

Federal Railroad Administration, April 2001: Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS): Maglev Deployment Program. 2 volumes, DOT/FRA/RDV-00/02, 423 + 59 pp.

Federal Railroad Administration, October 2003: Baltimore-Washington Maglev Project: Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Section 4(f) Evaluation. volume 1 of 2, 792 pp., https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=ien.35556034589457&view=1up&seq=9.

Federal Railroad Administration, 2005: Report to Congress: Costs and benefits of magnetic levitation. 76 pp., https://railroads.dot.gov/elibrary/report-congress-costs-and-benefits-magnetic-levitation.

Federal Railroad Administration, 2008: Analysis of The Benefits of High-Speed Rail on the Northeast Corridor. Report CC-2008-091, memorandum from D. Tornquist, 19 pp., https://www.oig.dot.gov/library-item/30401.

Federal Railroad Administration, October 2015: NEC Future Ridership Analysis Technical Memorandum. submitted by Parsons Brinckerhoff and AECOM, 260 pp. Reprinted as Appendix B8 of FRA (2016), https://www.fra.dot.gov/necfuture/pdfs/tier1_deis/appendix/app_b08.pdf.

Federal Railroad Administration, December 2016: Tier 1 Final Environmental Impact Statement NEC Future. https://www.fra.dot.gov/necfuture/tier1_eis/feis/.

Federal Railroad Administration, March 2017: Record of Decision: Baltimore & Potomac Tunnel Project. 72 pp., https://www.amtrak.com/content/dam/projects/dotcom/english/public/documents/bptunnel/BPT_Record-of-Decision_March2017_Signed.pdf and https://www.amtrak.com/bptunnel.

Federal Railroad Administration, July 2017: Record of Decision: NEC Future. https://www.fra.dot.gov/necfuture/pdfs/rod/rod.pdf.

Federal Railroad Administration, January 2018: Final Preliminary Alternatives Screening Report, Baltimore-Washington Superconducting MAGLEV Project. 1,229 pp. (main text and appendices), https://bwmaglev.info/index.php/project-documents/.

Federal Railroad Administration, January 2021: Baltimore-Washington Superconducting MAGLEV Project Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Draft Section 4(f) Evaluation. 3,053 pp. (main text and appendices), https://bwmaglev.info/index.php/project-documents/deis.

Hidekazu, A., and K. Nobuo, 2017: End Game for Japan’s Construction State – The Linear (Maglev) Shinkansen and Abenomics. Asia-Pacific Journal, vol. 15, article ID 5050, https://apjjf.org/2017/12/Aoki.html.

IRS, 2021: Travel, Gift, and Car Expenses. publication 463, https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p463.pdf.

Jon, K., January 21, 2021: 2017–2018 Regional Travel Survey Briefing: Change in Observed Trips Since 2007/08. technical presentation, Transportation Planning Board (NCRTPB) part of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG), https://www.mwcog.org/documents/2020/01/21/regional-travel-survey-presentations-regional-travel-survey-tpb-travel-surveys/.

Kelley, O. A., 2021: Ridership Revisited. 90 pp. Available online as a PDF file linked to “The Federal Railroad Administration falls for an excessively high forecast of how many trips would be made on the maglev,” a blog post on the Greenbelt Online blog, https://www.greenbeltonline.org/maglev-ridership/.

Louis Berger, November 8, 2018: Baltimore-Washington SCMAGLEV Project Final Ridership Report. 79 pp., https://bwmaglev.info/index.php/component/jdownloads/?task=download.send&id=71&catid=6&m=0&Itemid=101. This copy of the report was heavily redacted when publicly released on April 23, 2021. The FRA released a slightly less redacted version on August 17, 2022, in respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request made by the Maryland Coalition for Responsible Transit (MCRT).

Louis Berger, May 6, 2020: Baltimore-Washington SCMAGLEV Project Ridership Data Request. https://bwmaglev.info/index.php/project-documents/deis#ridership-studies. This report is a response to an FRA data request. It is not the data request itself. For this reason, the present blog post refers to this report as the 2020 Louis Berger ridership report, which distinguishes it from the 2018 Louis Berger ridership report.

Lysy, F., May 23, 2021: The ridership forecasts for the Baltimore-Washington SCMAGLEV are far too high. a blog post on the An Economic Sense blog, https://aneconomicsense.org/2021/05/23/the-ridership-forecasts-for-the-baltimore-washington-scmaglev-are-far-too-high/.

MWCOG, 2019: 2019 State of the Commute Survey: Technical Survey Report. Commuter Connection Program of the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (NCRTPB), which is part of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, 219 pp.

MWCOG, 2020: Regional Transportation Data Clearinghouse (RTDC) 2017/2018 Regional
Travel Survey (RTS) Tabulations. comma-separated-value *.csv files, National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (NCRTPB) part of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Data files downloadable from https://rtdc-mwcog.opendata.arcgis.com/datasets/regional-travel-survey-rts-tabulations. Introductory page: https://www.mwcog.org/transportation/data-and-tools/household-travel-survey/.

National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, 1991: In Pursuit of Speed: New Options for Intercity Passenger Transport–Special Report 233. The National Academies Press, 185 pp., https://doi.org.10.17226/11408.

O’Toole, R., November 6, 2013: MagLev: The idea whose time never came. a blog post in the Cato At Liberty blog, https://www.cato.org/blog/maglev-idea-whose-time-never-came.

Public Service Commission of Maryland, 2015: case #9363. https://www.psc.state.md.us/search-results/?q=9363&x.x=20&x.y=20&search=all&search=case. Initial staff comments on Dec. 22, 2014, are in document 14 in this case. The public utility law judge’s decision became final on Nov. 15, 2015, as stated in document 37.

Rogers, W. L., 6 May 2021: Comments before the US House of Representatives, Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials. hearing title “When Unlimited Potential Meets Limited Resources: The Benefits and Challenges of High-Speed Rail and Emerging Rail Technologies,” 21 pp., http://media.amtrak.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Amtrak-CEO-Flynn-House-Railroads-Testimony-High-Speed-Rail-Emerging-Technologies-050621.pdf and https://transportation.house.gov/imo/media/doc/Flynn%20Testimony2.pdf.

Rogers, W. L., April 17, 2015: Direct testimony of Wayne L. Rogers. Maryland Public Service Commission, case no. 9363. 23 pp., https://www.psc.state.md.us/search-results/?q=9363&x.x=20&x.y=20&search=all&search=case.

Scheiderich, W., C. M. Fraser, and D. Callies (Eds.), 2011: Eminent Domain: A Handbook of Condemnation Law. Am. Bar Association, 220 pp.

Ueno, N., 2014: Superconducting Maglev – Development and Progress Toward Revenue Service. abstract of conference presentation at the Applied Superconducting Conference, Charlotte, https://ieeecsc.org/presentation/plenary/superconducting-maglev-development-and-progress-toward-revenue-service. Mentions that the maglev’s niobium-titanium alloy must be cooled to -452° F to be used as a superconductor.

US Census Bureau, 2015: Table 4, Residence MCD/County to Workplace MCD/County Commuting Flows for the United States and Puerto Rico Sorted by Workplace Geography: 5-Year ACS, 2011–2015. An Excel spreadsheet for the entire country with over 594,000 rows. On the web page titled “2011–2015 5-year ACS commuting flows,” https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2015/demo/metro-micro/commuting-flows-2015.html.

Wilen, H., June 29, 2021: Maglev builder seeks to condemn Westport property, threatening massive development plans. Baltimore Business Journal, https://www.bizjournals.com/baltimore/news/2021/06/29/maglev-seeks-to-condemn-westport-property.html.

Willumsen, L., 2014: Better Traffic and Revenue Forecasting. Maida Vale Press, 258 pp.

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End Notes

[1] November 14, 2022, presentation and other maglev news: Greenbelt News Review (December 1 and 15, 2022), front page. NASA Goddard Engineering Colloquium, https://ecolloq.gsfc.nasa.gov/. Over 60 people attended the Nov. 14, 2022, seminar by phoning in or using video-conferencing software. An additional dozen participants attended in person. Most of the in-person attendees were affiliated with Baltimore Washington Rapid Rail (BWRR) or Central Japan Railroad. The author attended in-person but is not affiliated with either company.

[2] August 25, 2021, pause on the FRA dashboard: https://www.permits.performance.gov/permitting-projects/baltimore-washington-superconducting-maglev-project. In August 2021, the FRA email to coordinating agencies stated: “I am writing to advise you that on August 25th the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) paused the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Baltimore-Washington Superconducting Magnetic Levitation (SCMAGLEV) Project on the Permitting Dashboard to review project elements and determine next steps. FRA will follow up with Cooperating and Participating agencies when we have additional information to share. Regards, Marlys Osterhues, Chief, Environment and Project Engineering Division, Federal Railroad Administration.”

[3] Acela started revenue service in December 2000: https://history.amtrak.com/blogs/blog/happy-15th-anniversary-acela-express.

[4] Station-pair ridership for various modes of transportation observed in 2013 and forecast for 2040: FRA (2016), NEC Future EIS, vol. 2, Appendix B8, which republishes FRA (2015), NEC Future Ridership Analysis Technical Memorandum. Specific data from FRA (2015), Appendix I, Tables I-1 and I-4. Table I-4 is for the preferred alternative (Alternative 2) as stated in FRA (July 2017), NEC Future Record of Decision.

[5] For Acela in 2013, observed 17,595 one-way passenger-trips and forecast for 2040 of 29,170 one-way passenger-trips between Washington’s Union Station and Baltimore: FRA (2015), Appendix I, Tables I-1 and I-4. Calculate the average per day by dividing per-year ridership by 365 days per year.

[6] In December 2022, a one-way Acela ticket for travel between DC and Baltimore costs $18–$23: https://www.amtrak.com/. The average maglev ticket is expected to be $60 in 2018 dollars: FRA (2021), Baltimore-Washington maglev draft EIS, Appendix D4, Table D4-27, pg. D-43. After correcting for the inflation that occurred between January 2018 and November 2022, $60 in 2018 dollars becomes $72 in 2022 dollars: https://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm. The price ratio is 3.6 (i.e., $72 / $20).

[7] $17 billion cost: FRA (2021), Appendix D4, Table D4-8, pg. D-21. The relevance of the Acela-vs.-maglev comparison: Lysy (2021), An Economic Sense blog.

[8] The maglev’s official ridership forecast is too high: Kelley (2021) and Lysy (2021). High-speed rail has difficulty reducing road congestion: Congressional Research Service (2009); FRA (1997), pg. 7-4; FRA (2008), pg. 6-7. 150-mile trip length: FRA (2005), pg. ES-3. For a partial list of documents pointing out weaknesses in the maglev proposal see the “SCMagLev Opposition” page of the Maryland Coalition for Responsible Transit website, http://mcrt-action.org/.

[9] A maglev is bad for the environment because it uses so much energy: Hidekazu and Nobuo (2017); and Randal O’Toole At Liberty blog (2013). Maglev operations would increase CO2 emissions: FRA (2021), Appendix D4; and Kelley (2021), Chapter 4. In contrast, the plans to improve Amtrak service between Washington DC and Boston would result in a net decrease in greenhouse gas emissions: FRA (2016), vol. 1, pg. 4-38, Table 4-2. The 2021 maglev draft EIS’s comment period ended in May 2021: https://www.marylandmatters.org/2021/03/23/state-feds-extend-public-comment-period-on-maglev/.

[10] The test track may be called the “Yamanashi Maglev Test Line” or “Yamanashi Prefectural Maglev Exhibition Center and Test Track:” https://web-japan.org/atlas/technology/tec04.html.

[11] The niobium-titanium alloy becomes superconducting at 4.2 Kelvin which equals -269° Celsius and -452° Fahrenheit: Ueno (2014). Absolute zero is 0 K and -273.15° C.

[12] 5 .1 million Maryland register cars in Maryland in 2022: CSV formatted file for MVA vehicle registration by county from 2010 to 2022, https://opendata.maryland.gov/Transportation/MVA-VEHICLE-REGISTRATION-by-COUNTY-from-2010-to-20/kqkd-4fx8.

[13] BWRR CEO Wayne Rogers is alleged to have said the maglev would “remove 16 million cars from the corridor’s roads,” Baltimore Sun (July 1, 2021). Mr. Rogers also testified before Congress that the maglev would eliminate “16 million cars and 2 million tons of greenhouse gas,” May 6, 2021, U.S. House of Representatives, Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, https://www.congress.gov/event/117th-congress/house-event/LC67538/text?s=1&r=93.

[14] An audience member asked about how much energy the maglev consumed, and Mr. Rainey responded, somewhat off topic, that the maglev would “take 10 million cars off the road” and “tremendously” reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

[15] The maglev’s 2021 draft EIS’s estimate of net climate impact comes from adding the increased emissions from electricity generation to run the maglev and the reduction in emissions from car travel being diverted to the maglev. The official forecast of the maglev-related reduction in car travel would result in a reduction of 124 to 174 million kilograms per year of CO2 emissions: FRA (2021), Appendix D4, Table D4-40. The 460-million-kilogram increase in CO2 emissions to generate electricity to run the maglev: FRA (2021), Appendix D4, Table D4-43. See also Chapter 4 of Kelley (2021).

[16] Increased CO2 emissions to construct the maglev could be as high as 10 billion kilograms: Kelley (2021), Chapter 4, Appendix 2, pp. 78–80. The beneficial effects of reduced car travel estimated in the 2021 draft EIS assumes that most of the people who choose to ride the maglev would otherwise use gas-powered cars, not electric cars. An electric car emits less greenhouse gas than a gas-powered car. BWRR has a history of making false statements about the climate impact of the maglev. On January 31, 2017, at a hearing seeking a favorable resolution from the Baltimore City Council, BWRR CEO Wayne Rogers is alleged to have said “the project is electric, meaning no emissions:” Baltimore City Council, 2017, page 3 in hearing notes and page 15 of the complete bill. The truth is that all methods of generating electricity release greenhouse gasses to construct a generating facility, and in most cases, to operate the generating facility.

[17] Audience member Susan McCutchen asked the question. Mr. Rainey’s Nov. 14, 2022, presentation promotes the DC-NYC route as does BWRR’s website.

[18] Quote from the Code of Federal Regulations 23 CFR 711.111(f)(2), which is part of the regulations that implement NEPA for transportation projects, https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title-23.

[19] When announcing on November 25, 2016, the plan to write the Baltimore-Washington superconducting maglev EIS, the Federal Register (vol. 81, pg. 85320) did not claim this new EIS to be a tier-2 EIS under the much earlier 2001 Maglev Deployment Program (MDP) programmatic EIS. This Federal Register announcement mentions the MDP only in connection with the 2003 Transrapid draft EIS. The maglev’s 2021 draft EIS itself mentions two programmatic EISs but does not claim to be a tier-2 draft EIS under either program: Maglev Deployment Program (Section 1.2.1), and Amtrak’s NEC Future (Section 1.2.2).

[20] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_Personal_Computer

[21] The 2001 programmatic EIS (FRA 2001) describes the Baltimore-Washington route on pages 2-27 to 2-30 as the “initial link of a Northeast Corridor (NEC) system that could extend to the Southeast.” FRA (2001) states that the earlier non-superconducting Baltimore-Washington project had “strong service characteristics, a strong financial planning, and appeared well on their way to putting together an effective public/private partnership” (page 2-36). However, the FRA (2001) fell short of asserting that Baltimore-Washington segment would have independent utility in the absence of the planned extensions north of Baltimore and south of Washington, DC. FRA (2001) does not even contain the phrase “independent utility.” FRA (2001) states that further study is warranted for Baltimore-Washington route (page 2-36).

[22] FRA states that BWRR is responsible for establishing independent utility: notes from an Oct. 3, 2017, meeting that are included in FRA (2018), which is the Preliminary Alternatives Screening Report, which is itself included as Appendix E3 of FRA (2021). Specific quote from meeting notes: “FRA wants BWRR to show independent utility and ridership projections for the segment between Baltimore, MD to Washington, DC,” FRA (2018), pg. C-22. 150-mile trip-length threshold: FRA (2005), pg. ES-3. Other documents casting doubt of utility of high-speed rail with short lines: Congressional Research Service (2009); FRA (1997), pg. 7-4; FRA (2008), pg. 6-7; and National Academies (1991), pp. 6–7. 33–36-mile track length for Baltimore-Washington maglev: FRA (2021), chap. 2, pg. 3-18, 3-19.

[23] On November 14, 2022, audience member Shavesha Rutledge asked about impacts to communities along the maglev track. Mr. Rainey responded that impacts would be minimal because 75% of the track would be underground and the maglev would avoid taking a single private residence. In the planning profession, “a taking” is synonymous with condemning a property through the government’s power of eminent domain. When such a taking occurs, a landowner is forced to sell their property at fair market value. Various levels of government have a right to take property in this way so that the property can subsequently be used for the public good. In many circumstances, the landowner can challenge the taking in court. The legislative body within a local government or the federal government can pass a bill that delegates to a private company a limited degree of condemnation authority. See Scheiderich et al. (2011).

[24] BWRR’s request became Case #9363: Public Service Commission (2015). Eminent domain authority is likely the reason BWRR requested the transfer: pg. 6 staff response on December 22, 2014, https://www.psc.state.md.us/search-results/?q=9363&x.x=20&x.y=20&search=all&search=case. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals pointed out that Maryland law states, “A Maryland railroad company may acquire land and other property that it determines is convenient or necessary for the site of the railroad or for additions to the railroad by… purchase… or condemnation:” [italics added] Maryland Public Utilities Code, Ann. Section 9-303(b) (2020), https://law.justia.com/codes/maryland/2020/public-utilities/division-i/title-9/subtitle-3/section-9-303/. Mention of this law by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, March 4, 2022, opinion 983-2021, https://casetext.com/case/balt-wash-rapid-rail-llc-v-westport-capital-dev.

[25] The 1912 legislation granted a franchise to build a railroad to the long-since-bankrupt Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis Electric Railroad Company. 1935 bankruptcy: pg. 2 of staff response, Case #9363, December 22, 2014.

[26] Staff reservations enumerated on pg. 3-4 of staff response, Case #9363, Dec. 22, 2014. “Staff is uncertain at best that the Commission has the authority to do as the Applicant requests. Staff believes it would be far better for the Applicant to seek and obtain its franchise directly from the Maryland General Assembly,” pg. 4 of staff response, Case #9363, Dec. 22, 2014.

[27] 2003 termination of maglev: Maryland House of Delegates bill HB935 in 2003, lines 15–23, page 42, House Bill 935 of the 2003 regular session, “Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act of 2003.” The 2003 bill’s impact is discussed in the analysis of 2020 bill HB733, https://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2020RS/fnotes/bil_0003/hb0733.pdf.

[28] One limitation was that the Baltimore City Council approve of the transfer of the railroad franchise. This limitation is referred to as “staff condition #2” in Case #9363. See pages 11–12 of the brief of the staff of the public service commission, Case #9363, August 17, 2015. See also page 24 of the proposed order of public utility law judge, Case #9363, October 14, 2015. On Jan. 31, 2017, the Baltimore City Council was in favor of the maglev, and it passed a resolution to this effect (bill #17-0004). Subsequently, the Baltimore City Council became opposed to the maglev and submitted comments in May 2021 opposing the maglev (Baltimore Sun June 23, 2021; July 1, 2021). One might wonder if BWRR would lose its authority to condemn land if the Baltimore City Council were to repeal resolution #17-0004.

[29] The development would be called One Westport: https://www.onewestport-baltimore.com/. The 43-acre waterfront site: Washington Business Journal, July 2, 2021. BWRR files to condemn on June 8, 2021: Court of Special Appeals (2022). The 43 acres are bounded by water to the east, Kloman Street to the west, Waterview Ave. to the south, and its northern edge is about 300 feet south of Interstate 95: Baltimore CodeMap online GIS, reachable from the “GIS and Mapping” page of the Baltimore Department of Planning, https://planning.baltimorecity.gov/maps-data/gis/. $17-billion construction cost: FRA (2021), Appendix D4, Table D4-8, pg. D-21.

[30] BWRR made its statement about its need for the 43 acres in circuit court. BWRR’s statement is paraphrased in the Court of Special Appeals opinion (2022): “BWRR explains that it needs the Property to construct and operate its railroad and that the Property is necessary regardless of which of two proposed alignments for the SCMAGLEV is selected. BWRR posits that the Property is necessary for the Baltimore City SCMAGLEV Station, a maintenance area and maintenance tail track, a parking area, and construction areas.” On March 4, 2022, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals tells the Circuit Court for Baltimore City to reconsider its rejection of BWRR’s request to condemn the 43 acres: https://casetext.com/case/balt-wash-rapid-rail-llc-v-westport-capital-dev. The Circuit Court had dismissed BWRR’s condemnation filing on August 30, 2021. This dismissal occurred a few days after the Federal Railroad Administration halted the maglev’s environmental review. 1,500 homes planned: H. Wilen, Baltimore Business Journal, June 29, 2021.

[31] No plan to build maglev-related infrastructure on these 43 acres: FRA (2021), chap. 4.9, Fig. 4.9-10, pg. 4.9-16, and Appendix C, Fig. C11, pg. C-18. The text that accompanies Fig. 4.9-10 states that, under the maglev’s Cherry-Hill-station alternative, the maglev parking and ancillary facilities would be south of Waterview Ave. and between Waterview Ave and I-295. Page 4.9-17 makes no mention of maglev-related construction on these 43 acres.

[32] In 2003, Maryland House of Delegates bill HB935 stated, “the state may not enter into an agreement for construction or operation of a rail system based on magnetic levitation technology except pursuant to an act of the General Assembly specifically authorizing the project” (pg. 43 of 89). See also Appendix B of the present blog post.

6 Responses

  1. Jay Friedman
    | Reply

    Given the increase in Republican members in the House, and a less friendly consist in the Senate, there is even less chance to get funding for this project. Private capital costs have risen since last fall. Sometimes it is hard to kill a dead horse. This project died a while ago. No support from the organized passenger rail community.

    • Owen A Kelley
      | Reply

      Jay… Thank you for sharing your perspective. -Owen

  2. Dan Woomer
    | Reply

    Owen,
    Outstanding article. FYI – Testimony on Senate Bill 50 – “Prohibited Appropriations – Magnetic Levitation Transportation System” is being heard on Wednesday, January 25th before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. I, representing MCRT, will testify in support of the proposed legislation. Feel free to spread the word and encourage others to come forth in support of S.B. 50. The House version is HB0106. The initial hearing date before the House Environment and Transportation Committee was canceled, and we are waiting to see when the hearing will take place.

    • Owen A Kelley
      | Reply

      Dan, you are bringing up a very important bill being considered now by the Maryland General Assembly. If it passes this session, it would likely spell the end of the current proposal for a Baltimore-Washington maglev. As I mentioned in this blog post, a similar bill in the Maryland General Assembly in 2003 killed off an earlier maglev proposal between the two cities. –Owen

  3. Elliott
    | Reply

    This is the best in-depth article on maglev that exists. Thanks.

    • Owen A Kelley
      | Reply

      Elliott, Thank you for your feedback. It takes a lot of time to do this kind of research, so I appreciate your comment. –Owen

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