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Developer Working Towards 2020 Decision on $10-Billion Maglev Train


Posted December 17, 2018

A former chief engineer for New York City Transit is striving to apply a Japanese solution to traffic congestion in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

At MDSPE’s Annual Conference in November, Connie Crawford described plans by Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail (BWRR) to build a high-speed, maglev train between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, and eventually extend the line to New York City. Crawford — who also previously served as chief engineer of the NYC Department of Transportation and managed 900 bridges and tunnels — is currently Senior Vice President with The Louis Berger Group and is providing planning, engineering, environmental and financial analysis services for the maglev project. 

The project is based on Japanese technology and Japanese standards of performance. Central Japan Railway completed its first high-speed service — a steel-wheeled Bullet Train from Tokyo to Osaka — in time for the 1964 Olympics. Operating at 220 mph, the 16-car trains depart at 3.5-minute intervals and maintain an average delay of just 25 seconds. 

“It runs high-speed railway on a transit schedule … (with) a level of performance we can’t even begin to appreciate in the United States,” Crawford said.

Tasked with creating the next generation of high-speed rail, Japanese engineers developed the maglev (magnetic levitation) technology and began constructing a maglev line. Although a maglev train initially moves on rubber tires, it becomes airborne when it reaches 70 mph and is propelled forward by magnets along the side of the train that rapidly alternate north-south. Riding on a four-inch cushion of air in a guideway, maglev trains are designed to travel at 311 mph although the Japanese train has travelled as fast at 375 mph. 

After years of research, BWRR has narrowed down the possible routes for a DC-Baltimore line to just two — both starting near the Washington Convention Center, generally paralleling the BW Parkway (on the east or west side), passing beneath BWI Airport, and ending in one of two locations near downtown Baltimore. Each route would include about 30 miles of tunnel and 6-9 miles of viaducts.

The possible routes are limited and the tunnels are essential, Crawford said, because the maglev needs “pretty gentle geometry.” Traveling at 311 mph, the train needs to follow a straight and level path to prevent any passengers from “slamming against the wall or throwing up.”

Furthermore, the tunnels need to be fairly large.

“The train goes so fast that it can’t operate in a single-track tunnel because it cannot push the air out in front of it fast enough,” she said. 

Japanese engineers, however, have determined that a larger tunnel can both resolve the air-flow issue and accommodate two guideways for trains moving in opposite directions. 

“I have been in tunnels in Japan where they are running two [maglev] trains in opposite directions and you don’t feel it,” Crawford said.

Fortunately, tunnel boring machines (TBMs) have become more sophisticated and larger over the years enabling them to cut 50-foot-wide tunnels in a single pass without damaging buildings and other structures above them.

“Tunneling is all about risk management,” Crawford said. In addition to deploying extensive instrumentation on the ground above the tunnel’s path, “the TBMs themselves are instrumented like crazy so you are monitoring vibration, noise and settlements as the TBM is going along” and revising operations as needed.

At BWI, building a maglev station which would need to be nearly 1,000 feet long by 150 feet wide, would entail significant changes for the airport, including replacing the hourly parking garage. 

But BWI officials “are quite excited about this project because we will be an 8-10 minute ride into Washington, D.C. and you will be able to get to our station as quickly as you can get to your car or a taxi,” Crawford said. 

In Baltimore, developers and local officials are still debating the preferred site of a station. A proposal to locate the station in the heart of downtown near Camden Yards would require the removal of several large buildings. A second option would be much easier and less disruptive to build and would place the maglev station south of downtown directly above the Cherry Hill light rail station.

A record of decision is expected on the project in 2020. BWRR anticipates starting procurements on the $10-billion project later that year and completing the project in 2027 or 2028. 




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