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Baltimore Business Journal - From Kevin Plank to Ben Cardin, maglev supporters turn out

Business and political heavyweights turned out in droves Monday evening as a group trying to connect Baltimore and Washington, D.C. with a high-speed magnetic levitating train opened its new headquarters in Baltimore.

The Northeast Maglev, or TNEM, opened in 20,000 square feet of newly renovated space at 6 S. Gay St. Business leaders and politicians from both parties, including Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, Maryland State Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller Jr., members of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan's administration, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and representatives from Japan's embassy in the U.S., were on hand. Also in attendance were TNEM advisory board members who've spent time in public life — former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman and former New York Gov. George Pataki.

TNEM opens in Baltimore months after the Hogan administration threw its support behind the group's high-speed train project. Hogan rode a maglev while on a trip to Japan, and the Hogan administration applied for $28 million in federal funding for the train.

Maglev trains use magnets to hover off of the ground. The design proposed to link D.C. and Baltimore could hit speeds well over 300 miles per hour. TNEM envisions whisking travelers between the cities in as little as 15 minutes, with the line being extended to New York City in the future.

The link between Baltimore and Washington is estimated to cost more than $10 billion. The government of Japan, where the maglev technology was developed, has committed to fund half of the cost. TNEM believes private and federal funding can pay for the other half. Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn said the state is not investing in the project but wants to support it in other ways.

Miller, the state's senate president, pledged to back the maglev project. It could connect Baltimore residents to jobs in the D.C. area, he said.

"Those are jobs people from Baltimore could have, but they need transportation to get them there," he said. "A lot of Baltimore's needs can be solved by the fastest ground transportation in the world."

U.S. Sen. Cardin said he believes money can be found to pay for the project.

"There's no question that there is a partnership that can be had between the private sector and pubic sector and other partners," he said. "And we've got to find creative ways to do this today."

Plank, the CEO of $3.8 billion Baltimore-based Under Armour, is a member of TNEM's advisory board. He said his reasons for supporting the project are simple.

"I love big," he said. "I love blowing people's minds."

TNEM is attempting to win state Public Service Commission approval for a passenger rail franchise. If it receives that franchise, its next steps will be to start environmental impact and safety studies, said CEO Wayne Rogers.
Rawlings-Blake, who recently surprised the city by announcing she will not run for another term as Baltimore's mayor, called on officials to remember the city's poor as the maglev progresses.

"We have to make sure that whether it's with maglev or whether it's with public transportation that we are looking out for the least of us," she said. "When it comes to opportunities, whether it's to connect to jobs or it is the jobs in construction, we have to make that commitment to look out for the least of us. That is the way that all boats will rise."

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