May editorial: Transpo officials should not be quick to reject Grand Slam idea

Written by RT&S Staff
image description
RT&S Editor-in-Chief Bill Wilson writes a monthly On Track column.

Mr. Williams finally picked me for his team.

It felt like it anyway. During my awkward sixth and seventh grade years, I had to go through the PE teacher to make the basketball team. He never let me pass, but then came my moment of shining endorsement on a hot summer day in June on a dry baseball field. I started in the outfield. Well, on this day I was supposed to start, but once I settled in I realized I forgot my glove. Hey, it’s what 15-year-olds do, right? I told my coach and he said either I find a glove or I don’t play. That’s when I turned to Kevin Jungles, who didn’t play much at all. He was hesitant at first as he processed in his head the chance to play in my place, but he must have had a premonition that something great was going to happen with his help so he tossed me his glove.

Three batters into the first inning, the fuse to that great assisted moment was lit. A line shot was launched to my right. My reaction time was spot on, and I quickly launched into a super tracker for this laser beam that was moving into the sun. My steps towards the outfield fence were dangerously mounting, and the only thing left for me to do was leap for the ball in desperation. That’s exactly what I did, using every ligament of stretch I had in my lanky 6 ft 4 in. frame. I felt the ball land in the last possible place for a clean catch in Kevin Jungles’ glove. The inning was over, and as I jogged in marveling at the 8-parent standing ovation there was Mr. Williams, whose older son was on my team. “Great play!” he shouted. “Great play!” I was picked.

Offensively, I hit for plenty of glory during my days on the diamond, but I never held up the holy grail … hitting a grand slam.

AmeriStarRail thinks it has the best idea for train service in the Baltimore area, and it is not much of a stretch when you really dive into the details. Called the Grand Slam, the plan involves digging a rail tunnel underneath the city of Baltimore. The tube would be 10 miles long, hold four railroad tracks and avoid the Baltimore Potomac Tunnel, which has been a rail bottleneck for decades. The line would link to the Northeast Corridor, eliminate Penn Station, and allow trains to run at 160 mph. The new route also would have 30 stations and would be used by Amtrak, MARC trains, and a newly created metro service.

Amtrak, however, has come to play with its own ball. The passenger rail service wants to replace a 4-mile section of the Baltimore Potomac Tunnel. Two tunnels would be built and allow trains to move through at 100 mph. Construction is expected to begin next year and will cost $4 billion, and Amtrak has rejected the idea of a Grand Slam project.

Initially, the Maryland Department of Transportation and the Maryland Transit Administration was on Amtrak’s team, but AmeriStarRail COO Scott Spencer had a meeting with officials in late April and appeared to be making some headway. I had the chance to talk to Spencer on a Rail Group On Air podcast, and the more I heard from him the more I was cheering for this big hit to happen. Spencer said, for starters, Baltimore’s Penn Station is more than 2 miles from downtown, making it the most poorly located station of any city in the country. Amtrak’s version does nothing to address capacity issues. It puts a band-aid over a band-aid. Listen to the podcast, because I just can’t do Spencer’s argument justice in this small space.
Amtrak needs to get on board fast before this hit is out of reach.

Read more articles on passenger rail.

Tags: , , , , ,