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Members of Greenbelt City Council criticize maglev project

greenbelt councilGREENBELT – During a Greenbelt City Council meeting and a separate work session with Baltimore Washington Rapid Rail (BWRR) representatives last week, city officials and residents criticized the damage a high-speed train could do to communities in Prince George’s County, though one resident spoke favorably about the project.

The proposed superconducting magnetic levitation, or maglev, train would run between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. and eventually extend to New York City. At 311 mph, it would reduce the travel time between D.C. and Baltimore to 15 minutes, and between D.C. and New York City to one hour. The maglev is the fastest form of ground transportation in the world, according to a flyer handed out by the BWRR representatives. The train relies on Japanese technology and uses electromagnets to enable the train to levitate between its guideways and travel with minimal friction.

The BWRR has narrowed down the possible routes between D.C. and Baltimore to three alignments, each of which would cut through communities in Prince George’s County. One of the paths would impact Bowie State University, and Bowie council members and residents have already spoken out against the entire project.

Greenbelt Councilman Rodney Roberts specifically requested the project be addressed during a Greenbelt City Council meeting on Oct. 9.

“I asked for this to be on the agenda because I’m afraid of what’s going to happen if we don’t go on record opposing this and joining our neighbors, specifically our neighbors in Bowie and other cities along the path of this thing,” Roberts said. “In my opinion, (the maglev is) not suitable to a densely populated area. The fact is, if we don’t go on record now, if we don’t work with others in the county to kill this whole idea, it can very easily come back on us.”

Councilwoman Judith Davis said members of the Greenbelt City Council opposed a previously proposed maglev project about a decade ago because of how it would have affected local communities.

“We did oppose it at that time because of the damage it would do to the inner beltway cities it was going to run through,” she said. “I’m sure at some point we will take a position (on the current maglev proposal). I’m not going to say what it would be, but I think people could probably guess. I do want to get a chance to take comments, I do want to give the public a chance to have information on this. I think we will be discussing this again and I’m pretty sure we will be taking a position, similar perhaps to what we took before.”

Councilman Konrad Herling said he was interested in the previous maglev train suggested years ago, though he now has concerns about possible damage this project might have on the area.

“If everything that’s been said is accurate, that it’s going to be just a total disaster, then I would be supportive of opposing it,” he said. “I remember, in fact, when the idea came up initially, maybe as far back as 20 years ago, I remember I was really, really interested in the idea of connecting Baltimore and Washington more rapidly. But if it conflates to instead of taking 47 minutes to go via MARC from Baltimore to Washington and vice versa to 12 minutes, but it’s going to do all of this negative impact, then I would be opposed to it.”

During the work session on Oct. 11, two representatives from BWRR discussed the maglev project with council members and residents. Those gathered raised numerous concerns about the noise impact, whether the project would benefit Prince George’s County, and why some of the portions going through the county would be above ground rather than below.

However, one resident spoke in favor of the project.

“I’m a former school teacher in this country, and we’re always hearing from politicians, to parents, to high school teachers, to students themselves that we need more science, we need more technology, we need more STEM,” Greenbelt resident Robert Snyder said. “Students are coming up to the high schools and universities, saying we need more STEM projects. This would complement that and provide engineering jobs. We need to improve our infrastructure in this country. We need diverse, multiple modes of transportation. We can’t just rely on cars or on airplanes. I’m primarily in favor of this project.”

In response to multiple comments regarding whether the noise created by the train would bother people living near the track, David Henley, project director with BWRR, said the only noise the maglev would generate would be “displaced air.” Henley said that within 1,000 feet of the train, the decibel level would be below Maryland standards.

Henley also insisted the maglev would benefit the Greenbelt area through cleaner air and increased job opportunities.

“I think it would dramatically transform this area. It is going to reap the benefits of less vehicle miles travelled and that translates into better air for everybody,” he said. “We talked about job potential, how that will translate into Prince George’s County, all different manner of jobs, from skilled to unskilled.”

The construction of the maglev project would create 44,500 new jobs in Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties, according to a flyer handed out at the meeting.

According to the presentation, the maglev would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2,000,000 tons.

However, some council members were unswayed by that argument.

“I understand, and I appreciate that,” said Councilman Edward Putens. “I am not convinced that this is something for us. It’s something to play around with, whether it’s a special class of people, business people, who will pay big bucks. It’s not going to help us.”  

Roberts shared Putens’s concern that the maglev would benefit wealthier people at the expense of Prince George’s communities.

“You’re going to make money off the backs of ordinary, regular people and their homes so we can improve the convenience for a few people who have money,” Roberts said. “I don’t want to be stomped on. I don’t want our neighbors to be stomped on. The whole thing, in my opinion, is wrong.”

As of right now, 70 percent of the train would be underground, though some of the above-ground sections would be through Prince George’s, Henley said.

Councilwoman Davis said that although she will withhold her opinion until the exact route is finalized she was annoyed that some of the above ground sections will be in Prince George’s.

“I really do take a little bit of umbrage that it’s above ground (in Prince George’s). I think at some point you’re going to bite the bullet and realize that the only way this is even going to be acceptable is if it’s underground, because there’s noise, there’s aesthetics,” she said.

In response, Henley said, “We didn’t mean in any way to cause umbrage. If the best course to reach concurrence requires a tunnel, then that’s a starting point.”

“We want a mix of both” above and underground, he said in a separate interview. He said building the train above ground is three times cheaper as below ground, and that being above ground is important for the train’s “optics.” That way, people can see the train and passengers can look out their windows.

“At the end of the day, the alignment needs to make sense for everyone and be financially feasible,” he said. “People are worried about their homes and the environment. I get that. That’s a conversation we need to have. Just recognize your voice will guide the process.”

Henley said he will probably be back in Greenbelt to discuss the maglev in the next couple of months, though he does not have any set dates.

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