Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Comments on the proposed MagLev project between Washington, DC and Baltimore

Image courtesy of Northeast Maglev.

Northeast Maglev is currently accepting comments on the proposed MagLev line connecting Washington, DC to Baltimore. The Japanese high-speed rail technology would enable people to travel between the two cities in just 15 minutes - far shorter than the current 40-minute travel time. Ultimately, this new HSR line would extend all the way up to New York City through Philadelphia, similar to (but much faster than) the Southern half of Amtrak's current rail line along the Northeast Corridor.

Here are the comments I've submitted in support of this project:
As a transportation policy writer, as an advocate for safe and sustainable transportation options, and as a frequent rider of regional rail in the Northeast Corridor, I am writing in support of the proposed SCMagLev project connecting Washington, DC to Baltimore. This new high-speed rail project will help commuters travel faster and more safely between the two cities, and as we have seen around the world, high-speed rail will have a net positive economic impact for the Northeast US.

Japan, which is developing the MagLev technology and is helping to fund the SCMaglev Project, is no stranger to high-speed rail. The first high-speed rail line in the world, Japan’s shinkansen system connects Japan’s major cities, such as Tokyo and Osaka. In the 50 years that the shinkansen has been operating, it has carried 10 billion people and yet has seen zero accident-related passenger deaths or injuries. That is an amazing safety record. What’s more, the average delay on the shinkansen is a mere 36 seconds, even in bad weather – which makes for an impressive on-time performance record, as well. Of course, the shinkansen does not operate on MagLev, but it is this legacy of safety and punctuality that gives me confidence in the newer technology.

High-speed rail also generates economic benefits, and we can see examples of these benefits in the countries that have adopted high-speed rail ahead of the United States. In the UK, 8,000 people were employed in the construction of a high-speed link between London and the Channel Tunnel. In Germany, towns that got a station on the Frankfurt-Cologne high-speed rail line experienced a 2.7 percent increase in overall economic activity compared with the rest of the region. In Japan, property values near shinkansen stations are 67 percent higher than property values further away.

The United States – and the DC-Baltimore area more specifically – could become a similar success story, but only if we make the investments necessary now to put us on that path. There is no question that MagLev, one of the very newest technologies in the high-speed rail landscape, will be of great upfront cost. But these costs will be shared between state funds, federal assistance, private investment, and Japanese business interests.

And the benefits are many. Shortening the trip between DC and Baltimore to a mere 15 minutes will connect two major cities like never before, making it easier for commuters to live in one city and work in the other. And with an intermediate station at BWI International Airport, people in our region could easily take the high-speed train to the airport – far faster than the current Amtrak line – and fly anywhere in the country or the world. This intermodality increases the benefit of MagLev to travelers manifold, allowing people to spend more time at their destination and less time in transit.

In one of the most heavily congested corridors in our country, MagLev will help take cars off the road as riding the train to work becomes a more feasible and comfortable option. This will help mitigate congestion on our roads, thereby reducing commute times even for those who choose to continue driving. This will also reduce air emissions from our transportation sector, which is the highest source of carbon emissions in our country – benefiting our region and beyond.

The DC-Baltimore link would only be the beginning: I understand that the ultimate vision is to have a MagLev line connecting DC all the way to New York City, through Philadelphia. This would be revolutionary. In the time it currently takes someone to take the train into New York City from Northern New Jersey or Southwest Connecticut – a trip millions of commuters make every day – someone could ride MagLev all the way from Philadelphia to NYC in the same amount of time. Minimizing travel times and maximizing commuter safety in this way by building such a MagLev line will revolutionize work and travel patterns along the Northeast Corridor.

And in our part of the country, the stakes could not be higher. The age of our infrastructure along the Northeast Corridor is showing: whether it’s derailments near Philadelphia, speed restrictions outside of Baltimore, or electricity outages in Connecticut, our current rail system is not adequately serving the needs of our population. We need to make our railways safe again, and we need to make them faster – and MagLev is the technology that will help us do that.

As Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said after experiencing MagLev for himself in Japan, “There’s no question that this is the future of transportation.” MagLev can be our future in the United States as well, reducing travel times and emissions and improving safety. There will be upfront costs, and there will doubtlessly be opposition as there is for any large-scale infrastructure project, but our investment in this new, fast technology will be well worth it.

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