COMMON QUESTIONS

We understand that the SCMAGLEV is a new and unfamiliar concept for many. As we talk with people from different communities, we find that they often have similar questions. We’ve put together a list of some of the more common questions below, and will continue to update this list as more questions come up. We hope that by reading some of these questions and answers, you’ll become just as excited about this project as we are!

Don’t see your question here?

Q: What is the Baltimore–Washington SCMAGLEV Project?

A: The SCMAGLEV (superconducting magnetic levitation) Project, is a proposed high-speed rail line between Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, DC, with an intermediate stop at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport. Ultimately, the system will be extended to New York City. SCMAGLEV is the most advanced high-speed ground transportation system in the world. Traveling at a speed of 500 km/h (311mph) will enable a 15-minute trip between Washington, DC and Baltimore and a one-hour trip between Washington, DC and New York City.


Q: What is the SCMAGLEV system and how does the SCMAGLEV compare to other high-speed ground transportation systems?

A: The SCMAGLEV is the fastest ground transportation system in the world, having been certified by the Guinness Book of World Records for its speed record of 375 mph set in 2015. Unlike conventional railway systems, the SCMAGLEV accelerates and decelerates not by force generated by a mechanical motor, but through a magnetic force generated between the onboard superconducting magnets and electromagnetic coils in a guideway.


Q: Who will operate the SCMAGLEV?

A: Developer Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail expects that a US operating entity will be created for the purpose of operating the system in the Northeast Corridor. The operating entity will operate the SCMAGLEV based upon the standards and procedures developed by the Central Japan Railway Company (JR Central) and those mandated by the FRA. JR Central is a publicly traded, private train operator in Japan, and is the owner and operator of the SCMAGLEV system in Japan. Though JR Central will not operate the SCMAGLEV system in the US, it does provide vital technical advice to help advance the deployment of the SCMAGLEV system in the US. JR Central operates the Tokaido Shinkansen “bullet train” between Tokyo and Osaka, the safest, busiest and most travelled high-speed rail line in the world. This operation carries 150 million people every year, utilizing 100,000 trains with an annual average delay of just 54 seconds per operational train.


Q: Is this the same thing as Hyperloop or Loop?

A: No, Hyperloop/Loop is a separate and unaffiliated project. 

Q: Is it safe to ride on the SCMAGLEV system?

A: The SCMAGLEV is one of the safest transportation systems in the world. The train travels in a completely dedicated guideway, thereby eliminating the possibility of collisions with freight or other types of passenger vehicles. Additionally, the U-shaped design of the guideway itself prevents derailments. The dedicated system approach is based upon the Tokaido Shinkansen “bullet train” operation in Japan, which has not experienced any passenger injuries due to train accidents such as derailments or collisions during its 50+ years of service.


Q: Is the SCMAGLEV system ready for commercial application?

A: Yes. A 26.6-mile SCMAGLEV line is already operating. To date, SCMAGLEV vehicles have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles and safely transported hundreds of thousands of passengers.


Q: Will there be any air shafts or egress points to the surface? If so, how far apart and what surface impact will there be?

A: Yes – between Washington DC and Baltimore there will be 6-8 emergency egress points to the surface. Egress points will be co-located with ventilation plants and other ancillary facilities in one or more buildings on a site of up to three acres. The proposed sites will be identified in the EIS, and are typically located on government-owned land, vacant lots, or lands in industrial areas.


Q: In case of an emergency, how will passengers be evacuated?

A: Given its speed and momentum, in all likelihood, the train will coast into the next station. In viaduct sections, passengers will use a maintenance / evacuation walkway on the side of the guideway to access stairs spaced periodically along the route. If passengers need to exit a train that is stopped in a tunnel, they will use stairways located between the two guideways to access an escape gallery in the lower portion of the tunnel. There, passengers will proceed along the gallery to emergency exits.

Q: How loud is the SCMAGLEV?
A: Unlike traditional trains, the SCMAGLEV does not use steel wheels and rails, catenaries, or diesel engines, three of the major factors that contribute to train noise. At high speeds, the SCMAGLEV levitates using electromagnetic forces, and has no contact with its guideway. These factors keep the SCMAGLEV’s noise impacts to a minimum. Tunneled sections of the route produce no noise at ground level. Noise in above ground sections is limited to the sound of air being displaced by the train’s high speed.


Q: Does the SCMAGLEV system generate perceptible ground vibration?
A: No, the SCMAGLEV system does not generate perceptible ground vibration. According to measurements taken during a rigorous environmental study in Japan, ground vibration generated by the SCMAGLEV is so low that it is not perceptible to humans.


Q: Are the magnetic fields generated by the SCMAGLEV dangerous?
A: SCMAGLEV has been approved as safe for humans and the environment, meeting strict magnetic field exposure guidelines recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). As part of the EIS process and the FRA’s review for safe train operation, magnetic fields and potential impacts will be evaluated in the EIS and by the FRA’s Office of Safety.


Q: The train will not be an environmental benefit as it will use electricity produced by traditional means, namely coal and natural gas fired power plants.

A: As the SCMAGLEV is designed for efficiency, it makes highly efficient use of the electricity used. In fact, the SCMAGLEV uses considerably less energy per seat / mile than traditional high-speed rail, air, and automobiles. Calculations show a yearly decrease of over 2,000,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions in the Baltimore / Washington DC region as a result of decreased vehicle miles traveled — and this estimate also accounts for average air emissions from electricity generated in Maryland with fossil fuel sources!


Q: This project will use a considerable amount of concrete which is not environmentally friendly.

A:  The main environmental concern with concrete is that production of cement (a component of concrete) generates greenhouse gas emissions. Fortunately, there is a large amount of academic and industrial research taking place currently to develop and standardize an environmentally friendly alternative to cement. Current research looks promising and we’re hopeful that a carbon neutral (or even carbon negative!) concrete will be in standard use by the time we are ready to start construction.

We’re also hoping to use Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) principles in as much of our station, facility, and infrastructure design as we can.     

Q: The SCMAGLEV is an unproven technology, how do we know it will work here?

A: The SCMAGLEV is a fully proven system. It was developed over a period of more than 50 years and has undergone extensive reviews and evaluations by the Japanese government. The Japanese government fully approved the technology for passenger service in 2014. The SCMAGLEV is currently operating and is being extended to connect Tokyo and Nagoya.


Q: How does the SCMAGLEV system operate in snowy or rainy conditions?

A: The SCMAGLEV system can utilize a variety of snow mitigation and removal measures, including, for example, hoods and a warm water sprinkler system as is used on the bullet trains. Extreme weather conditions will be addressed in the EIS as part of the emergency management plan.

Q: What about the land needed to build the project? How will the project affect landowners?

A: Developer BWRR respects and values the private property rights of landowners and are committed to a strategy that emphasizes the importance of identifying and using land in a manner that will minimize any negative impacts to landowners during both construction and operation. For operational purposes, much of the route will be in deep tunnels underground. Surface impacts, whether below ground or above ground, will be designed to minimize impacts. If the project necessitates the need for access to additional land, BWRR will work closely with landowners and communities on finding land use solutions that work for everyone.


Q: Maps show massive 1000-foot wide alignments for the SCMAGLEV. There are thousands of houses shown in these paths!

A: Some privately-created unofficial maps show the potential width of the path as 1000 feet. It is important to only refer to official maps created by the NEPA process. Other maps may have misleading and inaccurate information. In actuality, the width of the SCMAGLEV’s above ground viaduct structure is approximately 46 feet. During construction, the contractor’s temporary work zone will be 72 feet wide.


Q: Why can’t the alignment be 100% underground?

A: The project must be financially feasible. The higher the percentage of tunnel – which is about twice as expensive as elevated viaduct – the less financially viable. A balance of tunnel and viaduct will best ensure financial viability.


Q: I’ve read that this train will destroy tens of thousands of houses, as well as churches, schools, and important historical sites.

A: At this stage of the study, a final preferred route has not been determined by MDOT and the FRA. The current alignment preferred by project developer, Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail, involves no taking of houses, churches, schools or historical sites.

Q: SCMAGLEV is not financially feasible because it’s so expensive. It will just become a burden on state taxpayers.

A: Independent ridership and revenue studies validate the financial feasibility of the project, which substantiated that operating and maintenance costs are projected to be completely offset by revenues. These assumptions will be validated in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process. Additionally, no state money will be used on this project. The funding for the environmental study was supplied by the federal government through the Maglev Deployment Program, with matching funds from the private sector. There is no state funding planned for the project.


Q: How much will a ticket cost?
A: We expect ticket prices to be competitive with those of express rail services for similar trips on the corridor.


Q: Where will SCMAGLEV riders come from?

A: The need for high speed in the Northeast Corridor has been recognized for more than 50 years. Our studies indicate there is a pent-up demand for safe, reliable high-speed travel for all manner of trip purposes. Market research shows that the travel time savings offered by SCMAGLEV service are highly valued across all travel purposes and income segments, including current users of commuter rail in the corridor.


Q: How much will construction cost and how will it be financed?

A: The cost of construction is dependent on the route selected and the construction methodology chosen to implement that decision. These route alternatives will be determined as part of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) conducted under the federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. The cost of construction will be covered by a combination of federal, Japanese government and private funding.


Q: Wouldn’t it be cheaper and have fewer community impacts to just upgrade the existing Northeast Corridor to high-speed rail?

A: When the Northeast Corridor was built over a hundred years ago, it was not built with high speed in mind. High operating speeds require wider curves, so upgrading the existing corridor to true high-speed rail would involve building new surface-level alignments, which is not feasible.

The current track only allows 6% of the alignment to reach speeds of 150 mph, less than half of SCMaglev speed. In addition, nine passenger railroads and four freight railroads utilize the same tracks. This congestion does not allow for frequent high speed rail travel.