Maglev proposal on track financially Baltimore-D.C. route is touted for speedy train

November 04, 1993|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Staff Writer

A proposed high-speed magnetic levitation train whisking passengers between Baltimore and Washington in just 16 minutes could become one of the world's most financially successful mass transit systems, a new study concludes.

Preliminary findings of a study commissioned by the Maryland Department of Transportation estimate that a magnetic levitation train would cost $30 million to $40 million a year to operate and maintain. But the train would rake in at least $60 million a year charging one-way passenger fares of $10 to $20, the study found.

Since urban transit systems typically earn only about half of their operating costs from fares, "maglev would work better than any other mass transit system in the world today," said Jack Kinstlinger, chairman of KCI Technologies Inc. The Towson company, which is conducting the $900,000 study, made a presentation yesterday at a conference sponsored by the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. Kinstlinger said the calculations do not consider the cost of building and equipping the 40-mile-long system, estimated at more than $1 billion.

Consortiums of U.S. companies are already competing to develop maglev technology featuring trains that float on a cushion of magnetism and move at speeds of up to 300 mph. Differing versions of maglev have been demonstrated in Germany and Japan.

The Baltimore-Washington corridor is one of numerous routes around the country in competition for a federally subsidized maglev prototype.

Detractors oppose sinking money into maglev at this point because it is a fledgling technology that could prove unworkable. Advocates maintain that maglev trains are the logical way to travel between cities in the 21st century.

Those pushing for the Maryland route say it would be a crucial economic development tool for Baltimore and the state.

The Clinton administration supports the maglev prototype, but there has been opposition in the House of Representatives.

The case for maglev was bolstered by a report, released yesterday by the U.S. Transportation Department, that says the benefits of maglev are sufficient to justify a prototype.

The KCI study, funded by the state, the federal government and private interests, is finding other encouraging signs for a Baltimore-Washington maglev system.

It predicts that a Maryland maglev train would average 21,000 to 39,400 passengers a day when the trains began running, possibly as early as 2005. By comparison, the $1.3 billion Baltimore Metro system carries 40,000 passengers daily.

The study identifies four possible routes: the Interstate 95 right of way, the Amtrak railroad tracks and two paths along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway -- either alongside the highway or within 1,000 feet east of it. End points would be Washington's Union Station and Baltimore's Camden Station, with service to Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The study assumes that a maglev train would run 40 feet above the ground on an elevated track, reducing the chances that motorists might be startled by the sight of a train blowing past them, Mr. Kinstlinger said. The train's average speed would be 150 mph.

Mr. Kinstlinger said the Baltimore-Washington Parkway routes might prove to be the most attractive, even though the federal government might not go along with running a train along the parkway, a protected and historic area.

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