Baltimore Judge Sides With Westport Developer Over Maglev Rail System in Land Dispute

A rendering of the proposed Cherry Hill maglev train station. Image provided by Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail.

In a victory for the firm behind an ambitious waterfront development in South Baltimore, a judge on Monday rejected a lawsuit filed by Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail, backers of a controversial “super-conducting magnetic levitation train” known as maglev.

BWRR had argued that it was entitled to obtain through eminent domain a 43-acre parcel along the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River, just south of Interstate 95 and east of Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

But Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Kendra Y. Ausby rejected the rail company’s arguments following a virtual hearing on Monday.

As a result, the land will remain in the hands of Stonewall Capital, the firm behind ONE Westport, a planned residential, retail and parkland development that has been endorsed by the city’s top leaders.

Stonewall executive Ray Jackson said the rail company’s contention that it acquired condemnation rights to the land when it purchased the Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis Electric Railway franchise contained “a lot of factual inaccuracies.”

“I’m really appreciative that the judge really was diligent and read through the arguments,” he added.

Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail said it plans to appeal Ausby’s ruling.

“We’re very disappointed by the court’s decision,” said Sebastian Warren, director of strategic communication and public engagement for the project. “We’ll continue to work hard to bring this critical, needed infrastructure project to Baltimore and to the Northeast corridor.”

In a condemnation filing for the Westport parcel, lawyers for the rail project called the move “a last resort.”

“Even before the federal environmental review process began in November of 2016, BWRR has known that the Westport property would be critical in bringing the Super Conducting Maglev to Baltimore City and part of the station complex,” the filing stated.

“We believe it would be irresponsible to construct new townhomes and create a situation of conflict between new residential owners and the SCMAGLEV project.”

ONE Westport is slated to include 1,300 units of housing — a mix of market-rate and below-market townhomes and apartments, as well as senior apartments. Developers also envision retail, office space, public parks, a “waterfront promenade,” a 100,000-square-foot “innovation center” and a public recreation field.

“The support that we’ve gotten from the community, the mayor’s office and the [city] planning department — all of that was helpful in the ruling,” Jackson added.

The company hoping to build a high-speed rail system between Baltimore and D.C. envision being able to eventually whisk passengers between the District of Columbia and New York City in roughly an hour, largely underground, at speeds just above 300-miles-an-hour, using technology invented in Japan that causes rail cars to hover on a cushion of air.

Backers believe the privately-financed system will create thousands of jobs, take cars off the highway and spur economic development.

Detractors argue that only the well-to-do will be able to afford maglev tickets and that home-values will suffer due to vibration and construction. They also worry about the loss of parkland and neighborhood degradation.

The project is particularly unpopular among elected officials and activists in Prince George’s County.

BWRR is refining its route and equipment location designs and working on permit acquisition. The Federal Railroad Administration is expected to release a decision on the project next year.

[email protected]

Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.