Anne Arundel residents challenge plans for maglev near their homes

250-mph super train Linthicum rallying point

March 17, 2002|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

Linthicum residents never saw this train coming - through their back yards.

Sure, they'd heard talk about maglev, the 250-mph super train that would connect Baltimore, Washington and the airport in between. The train could clinch the 2012 Olympic Games, ferrying visitors to crab houses and soccer matches around the region.

But few knew until last month how far along plans for maglev had come, or that the routes the Maryland Transit Administration mapped would run right through their cul-de-sacs.

The MTA will choose its proposed route by November and submit it to the Federal Railroad Administration. By next year, transportation officials will decide whether Pittsburgh or Baltimore, the two finalists, will get maglev and the $950 million in federal money to help finance it.

Time was short. So the community that for years endured the numerous light rail crossings and the rumble of airliners taking off and landing at Baltimore-Washington International Airport decided to speak up in a way that state transportation officials would notice. And, residents say, they're not going away until they derail the state's plans to run the train through their neighborhoods.

"BWI interrupted things enough. Then we got light rail. And now they want to do this," said 13-year resident Melva Homens. "And I don't think it's fair."

This month, Homens and other residents formed a group they call CALMR - Citizens Against the Linthicum Maglev Route. Within a week, they'd blanketed their neighborhood with fliers and organized a protest for last Wednesday's MTA meeting.

Like many in Linthicum, Homens lives in the house her parents built. Relatives live next door and across the street. Before she retired, she worked as a receptionist at her husband's business, which was behind her home.

Homens' neighbor, 73-year-old Louise Smitcher, works as a receptionist in Linthicum. Her children live nearby. When she heard about the train, she looked up the MTA's plans on the Internet and saw that the train would pass right through her yard.

"I'm not convinced that behind my house is the best place for the train," she said. "In fact, I am not convinced this train is needed at all."

Beth Moore lives and works in Linthicum and felt so strongly about stopping Maglev that she passed out fliers in the pouring rain announcing the protest. Anne Arundel County Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle did too, and the Linthicum Democrat got soaked until one of her neighbors, a police officer, chased her down to give her an umbrella.

The local dairy store's staff informed customers. The community's gas station posted a flier. Republican state delegates held a news conference Monday at a light rail intersection to announce that they would oppose state funding for the project.

Considering that she learned about the maglev plans by accident, Beidle calls the rallying nothing short of amazing.

The MTA held an information session Sept. 12, one day after the terrorist attacks. Like most Americans, Beidle and her neighbors were home watching TV.

In December, the councilwoman attended a meeting in Harmans, where a team from BWI was reviewing the airport's construction plans. Among the visual aids was an early maglev map.

Realizing maglev could be headed toward her neighborhood, Beidle said she urged the Linthicum-Shipley Improvement Association to invite MTA officials - and their maps - to its February meeting. "When they brought their maps out in February, there was no doubt," Beidle said. "I was literally going to walk out my door and see the train coming out of the tunnel."

MTA officials said they're taking into account such concerns as they revise the maps. But some residents doubt that, especially because the MTA didn't reschedule the poorly attended September meeting.

MTA planning manager Diane H. Ratcliff defended that decision.

While residents are focusing their battle on the routes, state politicians are attempting to scuttle funding for the project altogether. Several House Republicans plan to make the case to congressional Republicans next week.

Del. John R. Leopold is among the elected officials with concerns about rider predictions. MTA estimates 35,000 passengers a day, but the $50 round-trip ticket between Washington and Baltimore would be out of reach for most commuters. The Pasadena Republican said he fears the impetus for the maglev push has a lot to do with the region's bid for the Olympics.

Ratcliff said the Olympics represents only a 30-day group of riders, and the train would rely on a "long-term" supply of tourists and business travelers.

Beidle said she is not sure CALMR can derail maglev. But if the train does come, the route will surely travel through Linthicum. Her plan, she said, is to keep trying to influence the route.

"I don't know if we can stop the train," she said, "but I don't want it to just run over us."

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