Possibly egged on by Hyperloop optimism, an old proposal for turning the Northeast Corridor into a high-speed transit route has risen from the grave.
Investors in the Northeast Maglev (TNEM), an American company with funding from a Japanese government bank, say that a superconducting magnetic levitation train is the future of transportation between Washington, D.C. and New York City. If successful, the Northeast Maglev would carry passengers one way in 60 minutes, and from Baltimore to D.C. in 15 minutes. (Magnets! How do they work?)
“What's happening is we're operating on 1940s and 1950s infrastructure and drowning in congestion,” Northeast Maglev CEO and chairman Wayne Rogers tells Co.Exist. “This isn't pie-in-the-sky technology. This is something that you could fly to Tokyo, sit on a train, and actually ride a train that goes 311 miles per hour,” he adds, referring to the maglev route currently being tested between Nagoya and Tokyo in Japan, which is planned to be completed by 2027.
The train itself would run on a bed of air, levitated by a series of electromagnetic coils located on the track. In superconducting maglev trains, the interaction between the magnets on the track and the train not only holds the train up, but the coils also use an electric current to push and pull the train along.
Similar magnetic levitation projects along the corridor have been considered in the past, but they repeatedly failed to gather legislative support. Curves that slowed down the train were a problem, as were low passenger projections, John Harding, a former U.S. Department of Transportation maglev scientist, told the Baltimore Sun.
The current maglev project plans on using tunnels to bypass the curves, but that will require significant funds (train ridership is also at an all-time high). Rogers expects that the first leg of the route, just between D.C. and Baltimore, would cost some $10 billion.
TNEM does have some high-profile support working in its favor, though. Its advisory board includes two former transportation secretaries, former majority leader Tom Daschle, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, former Northwest Airlines CEO Doug Steenland, and former governors of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania (George Pataki, Christine Todd Whitman, and Ed Rendell).
But while the Japanese government has committed to working with the United States, TNEM still anticipates needing funding from the federal government—an amount to be determined once the route is settled, says Rogers. The federal government is not doling out tens of billions of dollars to major, untested infrastructure projects these days.
Still, Rogers is incredibly hopeful (as one would have to be). Compared to past attempts, “the concept is different, the sponsorship is different, the routing is different, and the technology is different,” Rogers says. Plus, if people can get excited about the Hyperloop, why not get behind this?
“I think one of the things [the Hyperloop] has done—without commenting on the feasibility of the Hyperloop or not—is it's brought people's attention to the problem and brings America back to the things it's good at, which is thinking big things and implementing cutting-edge technologies on terrific projects,” Rogers says.
That said, America is also great at producing faddish dreams that deflate quickly when it's time to actually make them happen. Tangible results? Suppose we'll find out. In the meantime, the Acela, our "fast" train, will keep inching along.