High speed rail could come to Baltimore

Posted at 6:53 PM, Sep 28, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-28 18:53:36-04

Tucked inside a rehabbed old fire house and one of the first buildings to be rebuilt after the great Baltimore fire in 1904 is a company selling a very 21st century idea.

"It's a huge economic driver for Baltimore and Baltimore ought to be at the center of it."

Which is why Wayne Rogers decided to locate his offices on South Gay Street; envisioning one day his Maglev train can take people to DC in 15 minutes and eventually New York in 45.

Rogers is the CEO of Northeast Maglev, a company working to build the high speed rail capable of reaching speeds of 300 miles an hour.

Northeast Maglev is by far not the first proposed high speed train between Baltimore and DC, but this version, Rogers says, has as much momentum behind it as the magnetically propelled trains themselves.

"First difference is that this is a privately led venture so we have a private company that is going to get this railroad done and get it built," Rogers said. "The next thing is that over the last few years we tried to build consensus among both Republicans, Democrats, local politicians, the general public that this is something that is needed."

Rogers says the Japanese company who developed the technology is ponying up $5 billion toward a project estimated to cost north of $10 billion.

Northeast Maglev has already been working behind the scenes for two years obtaining the proper regulations and approvals; next up is the federal permissions and the environmental studies.

"We hope to finish that in the next three years. So if we can get that done in the next three years, we will all be riding on the train in the next decade," Rogers said.

It is an aggressive timeline, but one many Baltimore organizations are hoping is attainable.

The President of the Greater Baltimore Committee is certainly paying attention.

Donald Fry leads the group of about 500 Baltimore businesses and has supported a high speed rail project since it was first explored back in the 1990's.

"I think whenever you have a major player who is willing to put up about half the cost, that certainly makes it more viable and something you want to be paying attention to," Fry said.

Those previous efforts failed, but with private money, a new route and better technology, this time isn't so pie in the sky Fry says, rather a more plausible reality on the rails.

"It is visionary, it is big thinking. It is something though that is not pie in the sky because it has happened in other countries and it is about time it comes to the united states and what better place to have it than Baltimore Washington connection."

And Fry says the impact on Baltimore would be transformative.

This Maglev train has the ability of taking the megalopolis between DC and New York, shrinking it and placing Baltimore right in the center.

Balt-Wash planners predict the two cities could merge to become one of the largest population centers in the U.S., an attractive proposition for Baltimore business.

"In reality you would see over time that there is one large market which is really a benefit to Baltimore because it would probably make us the 4th largest market in the United States which again would open a lot of economic opportunities for us," Fry said. "Those are things that don't evolve overnight. That is something with that opening, that new rail line I think that would be a significant game changer."

But first, Northeast Maglev must play the game.

The federal government will have to give the project its blessing which is a tall order when talking billions of dollars, but the company thinks it has assembled a diverse group of supporters who can bridge that political chasm in Washington.

"We have business, government, Republicans, Democrats, private sector driving it,” Rogers said, “We think we can make it happen."

Next step for Northeast Maglev is firming up state permissions to operate as a railroad then begin the process with federal counterparts.

That includes an environmental impact study to help determine the route and where to locate the track.
Northeast Maglev envisions most of the route will be underground including stations in DC, under BWI and downtown Baltimore.

The project already has the blessing of Republican Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.

Hogan applied for a grant to study the Maglev idea and was impressed with the technology when he rode one for the first time earlier this summer in Japan.