Ride to the future

March 11, 1991

While American technology has transformed the weapons of warfare, American inventions that could revolutionize daily life have languished or been adopted by foreign competitors. One such invention -- magnetic levitation, or "maglev," a clean, quiet, vibration-free train that can travel in excess of 300 mph -- was invented in this country in the 1960s. But anyone who wishes to ride a maglev train will have to travel to Germany or Japan. Maglev technology still needs some work, but many people say it could revolutionize transportation in the 21st century.

In an attempt to get this country back into the maglev arena, members of Congress are proposing legislation to build a prototype route of 30 or 40 miles. The big question, of course, is where -- and a consortium called MAGLEV USA has a perfect answer: between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The route has much to recommend it, since there is plenty of traffic between the two cities and a major airport could feed into the line. Once built, the line would fit nicely into a longer East Coast system. From a local perspective, the advantages for Maryland and its economy are obvious. Consider the boost to Baltimore if downtown Washington were a mere 15-minute ride away.

The ball is rolling on Capitol Hill, and MAGLEV USA has enlisted an impressive amount of local support from the private sector. For instance, Alex Brown, which helped finance the country's first commercial railroad, wants to continue its participation in pioneering transportation projects by helping underwrite maglev.

The missing link in this campaign is enthusiastic support from the state government. Tomorrow, however, the state House Ways and Means Committee will hear testimony on a joint resolution of the Maryland General Assembly sponsored by Prince George's Del. Joseph Rosapepe urging Congress to finance the project and to choose the Baltimore-Washington corridor as its location.

Eventually, of course, the state would be required to contribute a portion of the project's cost, 10 percent or so. But that contribution would be spread over several years and would not be required until 1993 at the earliest. By that time, Maryland can hope to have weathered the current fiscal crisis and be ready to help pioneer the transportation of the future.

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