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Though funding is uncertain, Pittsburgh pushes for maglev

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Even if published reports prove true that Pittsburgh's main rival may drop out of the competition for federal funds to help build a magnetic levitation train, there is no certainty that the nod would go to Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

For the last year, Pittsburgh sponsors of a high-speed train that would "magnetically levitate" along a guideway at speeds of up to 240 mph have been fighting to enlist lawmakers and the Bush administration.

The backers say that a train between Pittsburgh International Airport and Downtown is a better project than such a train between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

While Congress has authorized $950 million for the winning project, because of White House determination to spend more for defense appropriations, the war on terrorism and homeland security, President Bush's next proposed budget could have a much smaller sum for a maglev project or eliminate the item completely.

The proposed budget won't be officially released for another two months. The picture is even murkier because Congress adjourned this year without passing a transportation budget.

When lawmakers return, because Republicans will then control the Senate, all committees are to be reorganized. Assuming control of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will be Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who considers rail subsidies "pork" and has vowed to curtail them.

Also, many people argue that because Amtrak is in financial trouble, it makes little sense to spend nearly a billion dollars on an untested maglev train.

There is no such train operating in this country, although Germany and Japan each have such a train, and China is about to begin operating its version. In the House, Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, who chairs the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has been outspoken in the past in criticizing both the Maryland and Pittsburgh proposals.

He strongly favors building a maglev project linking Las Vegas and Southern California because such a line and its necessary land acquisition would be cheaper.

The Washington-Baltimore proposal is said to be in trouble for several reasons: The region recently lost its bid to host a future Olympic Games; Maryland is facing a $1.8 billion deficit; people who would live along the route of such a train have raised many objections; partners in the proposed project in Maryland and the District of Columbia would have to raise a third of the cost in a tight economy; the new governor of Maryland, Republican Robert Ehrlich, has his heart set on building a costly new highway near Washington's suburbs.

A spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration, which must approve the Pittsburgh or Maryland project, said Maryland legally could pull out of the competition, but the FRA has had no indication that it will do so.

The FRA said it still expects to make some decisions next spring on which region is a stronger candidate for the $950 million for a national demonstration.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

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