Schaefer decides to wait on magnetic train funding

December 10, 1992|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Staff Writer

Gov. William Donald Schaefer has temporarily derailed effort to lure to Maryland a multimillion dollar prototype for a magnetic levitation train route.

So-called maglev trains are designed to ride on a cushion of magnetism and travel at speeds of 300 miles per hour or higher. They have so far only operated on test tracks in Europe and Japan.

Page Boinest, the governor's press secretary, said yesterday that Mr. Schaefer wants to see greater support of existing forms of mass transit from the state's business community before he approves the state's $200,000 share of a proposed study.

The $900,000 study would look at the feasibility of operating a maglev train between Washington and Baltimore.

She said the governor is particularly concerned about the poor performance of the state's commuter rail service and hesitates to commit state funds for the maglev study when other worthy programs are strapped for cash.

"There have been a lot of problems with the MARC [Maryland Rail Commuter] system and he'd like to see things get ironed out," Ms. Boinest said. "Yes, it [the prototype] looks like a great deal for the state, but you could be criticized for spending $200,000 for something that's a vastly bigger step in mass transit."

The governor's decision surprised local maglev proponents who see the federally funded project as a potential economic development boon.

Supporters worry that any delay will jeopardize chances that Maryland might ultimately win the maglev project and the $725 million in federal funding that comes with it.

Maryland is one of only six jurisdictions nationwide to be awarded a $500,000 grant from the federal government to study the feasibility of a maglev corridor.

Baltimore, the Abell Foundation and Maryland Economic Growth Associates have also pledged to help cover the cost of the study.

The Board of Public Works, which the governor chairs, chose to defer the study contract when it was presented three weeks ago. Maglev advocates said they first became aware of Mr. Schaefer's specific objections on Dec. 1 after the governor met with Donald P. Hutchinson, president of the Maryland Business Council, the non-profit economic development organization of which Maryland Economic Growth Associates is a division.

Mr. Hutchinson was unavailable for comment yesterday, but council spokesman Gene Bracken said the conversation focused what business leaders might be able to do to help improve MARC.

"We're still real strong on maglev," Mr. Bracken said. "MARC is important to the business community, too. We'll explore ways to see how we can help."

The poor on-time performance by MARC has been a continuing source of irritation to Mr. Schaefer. According to sources, the governor has been particularly frustrated by a perceived lack of cooperation from the two railroads that operate MARC for the state, CSX Transportation and Amtrak.

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