The Battle of the Supertrains - CityLab

In the space of one weird week in October, residents of Washington, D.C., and Baltimore were told that, one day, their commuting needs might be serviced by not one but two wildly ambitious high-speed rail projects.

A private company called Baltimore Washington Rapid-Rail unveiled three potential routes that the firm would like to use to build a magnetic-levitation train line. BWRR is all-in on importing Japan’s superconducting maglev technology to create a 300-mph supertrain that it says could shorten the trip between the two cities to just 15 minutes. The estimated price tag? $10 billion, a bill BWRR says will be covered by private investment—including, possibly, a loan from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation.

Also around the same time, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan tweeted out that his administration was also clearing a path for the Boring Company, that tunnel-digging side project of Tesla boss and serial entrepreneur Elon Musk. As early as January, according to a state permit, Musk’s firm could begin digging a 10.3-mile-long tunnel beneath the state-owned portion of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway that runs from the Baltimore city line south to Maryland 175 in Hanover, the first leg of what is the ultimate goal for Musk: digging two, 35-mile-long tunnels between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., into which he could install a hyperloop—the super-ultra-high-speed conveyance that could blast passengers in pressurized capsules traveling in a near-vacuum at more than 600 mph.

The estimated budget for this futuristic mode: Well, no one really knows. The best the Boring Company can do is to say that tunneling can cost $1 billion per mile, and that, in order for hyperloop to be a reality, those costs have to decrease “by a factor of more than 10.”

Either one of the two competing visions for the 40-mile spine of the bustling Northeast Corridor would dramatically reshape commuter options between the two cities, use radically new technology, and cost many billions of dollars. And they also represent what their boosters see as the first step toward a bigger prize: establishing the long-sought New York City-to-D.C. high-speed line. But it’s less clear who would benefit from these schemes, or the role they might play in the larger regional transportation picture.

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