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Transportation

Maglev Foe Launches 11th Hour Bid to Impose New Costs on Rail Firm

A train similar to the Maglev train that would connect Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail photo.

With less than a week remaining in the General Assembly session, an Anne Arundel County state senator is preparing legislation that would make it more expensive for a developer to pursue a high-speed rail project between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

Sen. Pam Beidle (D) said she will seek approval on Wednesday to introduce a measure aimed squarely at Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail (BWRR), the company seeking to build a superconducting magnetic levitation system between the two cities.

Under her proposal, any firm that uses condemnation to acquire land for a mag-lev project would be required to pay 25% of the associated costs to the jurisdiction the land is located in. While much of the line would be built underground, project backers have said, some privately-owned land will be required.

A longtime mag-lev opponent whose district would be bisected by the line, Beidle likened her proposal to the requirements that accompanied the rollout of slot machines.

“If it’s going to make that kind of impact on my community, I think there needs to be something that they give back,” she said. “You give impact money to the community, to help allay some of that impact,” she added.

BWRR is backed by the Japanese government. Supporters say the trains, which can travel up to 311 miles per hour, would permit passengers to get between Washington and Baltimore in 15 minutes. The firm hopes to provide service, eventually, between the nation’s capital and New York City. Critics have raised concerns about ticket prices, potential vibration, home values and land-takings.

Beidle acknowledges that her proposal faces long odds. It would be extraordinary for a bill to be introduced, go through a public hearing process, get debated, and pass both chambers in a matter of days. The General Assembly is set to adjourn Monday at midnight.

She said her legislation was necessitated by a March 4 court ruling allowing BWRR to continue its pursuit of a privately owned parcel in Baltimore’s Westport neighborhood. March 7 was the deadline for state lawmakers to introduce bills without the need for a special two-thirds vote.

Hearing about the bill on Tuesday, Gerry Evans, a lobbyist for Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail, declined to criticize Beidle’s proposal.

“The devil’s in the details,” he said. “I look forward to reading the bill. I have great respect for Sen. Beidle.”

The lawmaker said her opposition to the project dates back to 2004, when she served on the Anne Arundel County Council. Under a prior alignment, she said, “it was coming in front of my house. It was actually going to take my land.”