Survey finds support for maglev in Prince George’s; officials skeptical

A train similar to the Maglev train that would connect Baltimore and Washington. (Courtesy D.C. Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail)

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Public discourse regarding a proposed high-speed train running between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. has been dominated by a vocal group of project opponents, particularly in Prince George’s County.

But a new poll commissioned by the firm that hopes to build the line found broad support for it among residents of the county.

Among survey respondents who said they were aware of the proposed “superconducting maglev” train, more than two thirds — 68% — supported it; 19% were opposed.

Forty-two percent of those who had an opinion said they “strongly” supported the new train, while only 11% of opponents said they had strongly-held views.

Nearly 40% of those surveyed said that had never heard of the project.

The poll was conducted by Lake Research Partners, a Democratic polling firm based in Washington, D.C.

Human pollsters surveyed 600 Prince George’s County residents between April 1-5. The survey had a margin of error of 4%.

Residents who said they supported the project told pollsters they liked the idea of faster travel, reduced traffic, the utilization of new technology and the creation of good-paying jobs.

Opponents cited environmental and cost concerns. They also worried the train would hurt their property values.

The company that wants to build the line, Northeast Maglev, sponsored the poll. Northeast Maglev is backed by a Japanese railway company.

“We are gratified to see the growing level of support for the Maglev Project coming from our local communities,” said Wayne Rogers, CEO of Northeast Maglev, said in a statement.

Jerry McLaurin, president of the Prince George’s County PFC (People For Change) Black Chamber, called it “unfortunate that a small, albeit vocal, group of opposition is gaining more attention than the supporters of this major project.”

“That said, we knew this research would be invaluable in demonstrating the robust level of support coming from registered voters in Prince George’s County,” he added.

Backers hope the Baltimore-D. C. train could expand over time, and that eventually people would be able to travel between the nation’s capital and New York City in about an hour.

Maglev — or magnetic levitation — trains hover over electrified magnets in a dedicated guideway. There are no steel rails, as with traditional trains. Most of the route is underground.

The trains are capable of traveling over 300 miles and hour, fast enough to get passengers between Baltimore and D.C. in 15 minutes.

A maglev train has operated in Tokyo since 1998, delivering fast and reliable service, officials with Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail, Northeast Maglev’s sister company, have said.

The project would be financed privately, with no subsidy from American taxpayers, backers claim.

Critics have raised a host of concerns. They say the project would damage the environment and that homes and other buildings could be impacted by vibrations, a charge that proponents reject.

Opponents also worry that tickets — estimated at between $40 and $60 — would be unaffordable for some travelers, and that existing MARC and Amtrak service would lose ridership to the speedier Maglev.

Members of the County Council and County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D), who was briefed by company officials last week, have complained that Prince George’s residents will have to put up with years of round-the-clock construction but won’t get a maglev station.

The only station between the two cities would be at Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The Federal Railroad Administration extended the public comment period on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement at the request of Reps. Steny H. Hoyer (D) and Anthony G. Brown (D).

While maglev wouldn’t have a stop in Prince George’s, the head of the county’s Chamber of Commerce, David Harrington, believes leaders and residents should keep an open mind. He said maglev could bring jobs and boost property values.

“I think it’s worth looking at and exploring — and ultimately maybe even doing the project if there’s a community benefit and a business case for it,” he said. “The problem with maglev right now is there’s a lot of misinformation about it.”

Harrington said that companies seeking relief from New York-area office prices could be lured to Prince George’s if workers of the future are able to reach the Big Apple in an hour.

With the May 24 deadline for public comment looming, members of the Prince George’s County Planning Board received a briefing of the project on Thursday.

Analysts said construction of the maglev’s tunnels could be disruptive to neighborhoods. They also expressed concern about a maintenance facility that would be located in the county and the required egress points that passengers could use to reach street level in an emergency.

Members of the panel appeared torn between the promise of new transportation options and jobs, and concerns about equity and environmental degradation.

“I’m trying to balance this. I need to understand all of the concerns that are raised and juxtapose that against the need for advancement,” said chairwoman Elizabeth M. Hewlett. “If we always said no to everything, we wouldn’t have a Beltway; we wouldn’t have had a Purple Line.”

Board member Will Doerner said he has experienced modern train travel overseas and was intrigued by the concept of having new service in the northeast corridor.

“I like the idea of high-speed rail in general; I like the idea of using new technology,” he said. “But I don’t really know this is that great of an option, because right now it’s only going from DC to Baltimore … I’m only lukewarm.”

The National Capital Planning Commission, a land-use board that represents federal agencies, was also briefed on the project last week.

Michael Weil, an urban planner on the NCPC staff, told commissioners that the train “would require permanent development of several federal campuses” along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, including the Patuxent Wildlife Research Refuge, Fort Meade and the National Security Administration.

He said that impact to the study area could be “significant.”

“Of particular concern are physical impacts to recreational facilities and park lands, view sheds, water resources, ecological resources such as forests, and farmland soils,” he said.

Neither the county Planning Board nor the National Capital Planning Commission have taken a formal position on the project, but both will submit comments to the Federal Railroad Administration for inclusion in the final environmental statement.

Planning board staffers are set to meet again with Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail officials again on Tuesday.

“We are not NIMBYs,” said the board’s deputy general counsel, Debra Borden. “But we do want to understand what this will look like.”

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