Groups vow to derail high-speed train study

Linthicum residents and GOP delegates rally against maglev

March 12, 2002|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

At a busy Linthicum intersection, where crossing bells clanged and brakes screeched, a group of Republican delegates vowed yesterday to block funds for a study that could put a super-speed magnetic-levitation train just feet from where they stood.

Maryland has been trying to get the 250-mph trains since 1992, when the Federal Railroad Administration invited regions to compete for the project and offered $950 million in federal money to help pay for it. Transportation officials narrowed the field last year to Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and will name the maglev project's winner next year.

Del. James E. Rzepkowski of Glen Burnie was among those who want to stop the agency before the process goes any further.

"We want to send a clear message: Let Pittsburgh have it," he said over the commotion of two light-rail trains pulling up behind him. "This is a boondoggle for the taxpayers of this state. We want to stop them before they waste not only $2.8 million, but $500 million."

The Maryland Transit Administration's plan calls for a line to connect Baltimore, Washington and Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Maglev could eventually expand to link East Coast cities from Boston to Charlotte, N.C.

The project is expected to cost about $3.8 billion, with Maryland responsible for $500 million. The state budget includes $2.8 million for a feasibility study, and the MTA has mapped possible routes and is presenting them to communities this month. Del. John R. Leopold of Pasadena said the maglev project is superfluous in a tight budget year, when many worthy initiatives are struggling for funding.

"This type of an appropriation should take second place," he said.

Leopold is seeking to delete the funding through an amendment he will propose this week to a House transportation subcommittee.

In addition, Rzepkowski and several other state Republicans plan to meet next week with Rep. Don Young, an Alaska Republican who is chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, in the hope of derailing the project.

Linthicum residents are also rallying anti-maglev forces. Most learned only last month that the proposed maglev routes would slice through their neighborhoods - where frequent train crossings and heavy airport traffic now cause delays.

"This light rail thing came through without us knowing about it, and it really has hurt our community," said Stephen Kiass, a fourth-generation Linthicum resident. "And now they're talking about an even faster train. ... I've talked to my neighbors, and none of them supports this."

Linthicum residents, including Democratic County Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle, have formed an opposition group they call CAMLR - Citizens Against the Maglev Route. They plan to protest at the MTA information session tomorrow afternoon at Lindale Middle School.

MTA spokeswoman Suzanne Bond said yesterday that the agency is aware of the opposition. She said route plans aren't final, and the agency needs feedback so it can improve the plans.

Although Linthicum residents are focusing their ire on the proposed route, some wonder whether maglev is viable at all. A one-way ticket between Baltimore and Washington would cost $25.

"This is `tax the masses so that the elite can have a quick ride to Washington,'" said CAMLR member Glen Haller. "The math just doesn't work."

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