There have been several attempts at a high speed rail in the United States. However, there has not been any significant movement beyond the study phase. The proposed magnetic levitation (maglev) running along the so-called Northeast corridor could be the one to make it happen.
The Baltimore-Washington, D.C. Route
The latest proposed high speed rail is the Boston-New York-Washington route, also called the Northeast corridor. There are several reasons making this a primary candidate. It is relatively long enough that a drive can take 4.5 hours from Washington to New York without any traffic bottlenecks. The current Amtrak Acela rail service takes 3 hours to run the same route, while a high speed train takes only an hour or less. This is the promise of The Northeast Maglev (TNEM). Founded in 2011, it is a private company which aims to build a high speed rail service between New York and Washington, D.C. Along the way, it will be developing a Washington, D.C, to Baltimore route which will take commuters between 15 minutes to travel from end to end. This will later be extended to New York.
TNEM has announced three routes which are being studied. TNEM will be using maglev trains which can travel up to 300 miles per hour. Showing its commitment to the project, TNEM has already set up its headquarters in Baltimore. It has also garnered support from the governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan who started advocating a maglev route after riding one on a trip to Asia.
Maryland is supporting the TNEM initiative with a $28 million federal grant for the environmental impact statement process. It has also reportedly raised more than $100 million in funding.
It is expected to take at least another two years before government agencies would choose one of the proposed routes.
There have been some dissenting opinions about the project, chiefly from Maryland residents, as it may disrupt the neighborhoods it will pass through due to the noise. To prevent the noise, or to better dampen against the possible noise, project planners are designing tunnels running 90 feet below the ground. There are still some project opponents who opine that even if the train was underground, residents living above the route would still be affected.
MagLev and Hyperloop in Competition
TNEM is not alone in trying to develop the Boston-New York-Washington route, as well as the shorter Baltimore-Washington, D.C. route. The same route is also being studied by Elon Musk’s Boring Company for the possible construction of a hyperloop.
The hyperloop and the TNEM both work on the same basic propulsion method. Maglev or magnetic levitation is a mode of transportation where a vehicle is lifted off the track, or levitates off the track with the use of magnets. The vehicle levitates a short distance atop the track, and a different set of magnets would provide propulsion, and pushing it forward. The train levitates above the track and there is no friction between the train and the track. This allows the train to travel faster, at speeds up to 300 miles per hour.
One difference between a maglev and a hyperloop is the use of pods or smaller vehicles with a small number of passengers on the hyperloop, whereas a maglev high speed train would use cabs which look like regular trains. Another difference is the use of partial vacuum tunnel by the hyperloop. At higher speeds, a big part of the energy used by a maglev is used to push it against wind resistance. The faster it goes, the more energy is expended to make it move. The hyperloop can go at a much faster 600 miles per hour because there is little air resistance in a hyperloop tunnel.
A private Japanese company, Central Japan Railway, will be collaborating with TNEM on their project. Central Japan Railway developed a maglev route between Tokyo and Nagoya, Japan, which costs $50 billion to construct. The high cost of the construction was due in large part to the tunneling. Tunnels were used because at the high speed maglev trains were traveling, it was necessary to create a straight track from point to point.
The Baltimore-Washington route is expected to cost upwards of $10 billion – a worthwhile investment considering the bold impact maglev has made in Japan, China, and South Korea. More bold ideas are needed to help alleviate the problem of mass transportation in mega cities all over the world.