Schaefer clears way for maglev study

December 16, 1992|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Staff Writer

Efforts to lure a magnetic levitation train to Maryland appear to be headed back on track.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer has dropped his opposition to a study of a possible Baltimore-Washington maglev system, aides said yesterday. That clears the way for approval of the state's $200,000 share of the $900,000 study by the Board of Public Works this morning.

Maglev trains are designed to ride on a cushion of magnetism and travel at speeds of 300 mph or higher. They have operated on test tracks in Europe and Japan.

Mr. Schaefer last month asked for the maglev contract to be withdrawn from the board's consideration. A spokeswoman explained last week that the governor would not approve the study until the Maryland business community showed greater support for the Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) system. The commuter rail system has been criticized for poor service, including delays.

Yesterday, officials with the Mass Transit Administration were notified that the maglev contract was put back on the board's agenda for today, but were given no explanation.

Page Boinest, the governor's press secretary, said Mr. Schaefer has been moved by conversations with business leaders, including Donald P. Hutchinson of the Maryland Business Council, and with Secretary Mark Wasserman of the state's economic and employment development department.

"He was concerned about getting the business community concerned about the MARC system and he's gotten a pledge from the business community that we have a good, strong future with MARC," Ms. Boinest said. She said the governor never intended maglev funding to become a "huge issue."

However, supporters had worried that the delay might jeopardize Maryland's chances of luring a maglev prototype project from the federal government that could be worth nearly a billion dollars.

KCI Technologies Inc. of Towson, an engineering and planning firm, is expected to be awarded the contract for the $900,000 study. The study will focus on possible routes between Baltimore and Washington.

The federal government has provided $500,000 for the study, which must be matched with a like amount. In addition to the state's $200,000 share, $100,000 is coming from the Abell Foundation, $100,000 from the city of Baltimore, and $100,000 from Maryland Economic Growth Associates, a nonprofit business group.

The remainder of the $1 million total, or $100,000, will go to the MTA for administrative costs and to be held in reserve.

Supporters envision the maglev project as a potential economic development boon for the region, though detractors question whether the high-speed rail project might become a white elephant for the state.

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