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Top officials in Prince George’s County urged federal and state transportation leaders on Tuesday to slam the door on a privately-funded high-speed train between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
The proposed super-conducting magnetic levitation train — known as “SC maglev” — has stirred significant community opposition.
In their letter to Acting Federal Railroad Administrator Amit Bose and Maryland Transportation Secretary Greg Slater, county leaders amplified many of the criticisms that residents have voiced for years.
Chief among them: that construction would tear through environmentally sensitive areas and that the 311-mile-an-hour train would cause vibrations and hurt property values.
Leaders and residents also complained that the maglev train would not have a station stop in the county.
Backers of the project, which is funded by a Japanese rail concern, hope eventually to be able to whisk passengers between DC and New York in an hour, with stops at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) and in Wilmington and Philadelphia.
“SCMAGLEV is an unnecessary and flawed project in many ways,” wrote County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) and County Council Chairman Calvin S. Hawkins II (D).
“Even at its maximization, SCMAGLEV is little more than a very expensive novelty project that demonstrates little functional utility to anyone, and even less benefit to our jurisdiction,” they added.
In a statement, Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail (BWRR), the company hoping to build the line, expressed disappointment with the county council’s vote to oppose the project.
“We hope that moving forward we can work with the Council and County Executive demonstrating that the Maglev will bring a net benefit to Prince George’s County and the State,” spokesman Maxwell Meyers wrote.
“We believe we can work together to solve regional gridlock, achieve meaningful emissions reductions, and boost economic opportunities for all.”
Although project opponents have waged a vocal campaign against the train, a poll commissioned in April by Northeast Maglev, a sister company to BWRR, found robust support for the project among Prince George’s residents.
Nearly 40% of the 600 people surveyed had never heard of the project.
But among respondents who said they were aware of the maglev proposal, more than two thirds — 68% — supported it; 19% were opposed.
Several members of the county council openly scoffed at the poll, suggesting that Northeast Maglev’s pollster, Washington, D.C.-based Lake Research Partners, gamed the survey by making pie-in-the-sky promises about jobs or other benefits.
The script poll takers used, which was obtained Maryland Matters, made no such promises.
“Have you seen, or read anything recently about a highspeed train – sometimes referred to as Northeast Maglev – that will take you from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore in 15 minutes, with a stop at BWI airport?,” it read.
Many project opponents — particularly in Greenbelt, a hotbed of maglev pushback — shared the Council’s cynicism about the poll.
“I’m suspicious of the recent Maglev survey that favors the train but is sponsored by the private interests that want to put it there,” the Rev. Charles Hoffacker wrote. “That’s a serious conflict of interest!”
Meyers defended the survey.
“The poll was done by Lake Research Partners, which is run by Celinda Lake, who is known nationally as one of the most well-known pollsters [and] who has done work for President Biden and his team among others,” he wrote.
“To question the poll is to question her and [her] firm’s credibility, which is above reproach.”
The Anne Arundel County Council considered a resolution in opposition to the maglev project on Monday. It was rejected, 5-2.
The letter from Prince George’s leaders does not kill the project. It will be included in the Final Environmental Impact Statement, a review that is required by federal law. The FEIS, which is expected to be completed next year, is a precursor to the ultimate federal and state decision on the company’s proposal.
U.S. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told the Prince George’s County Council in February that their opposition to the project “is going to weigh very heavily” with the state’s congressional delegation.