Amtrak filed a complaint Thursday in the U.S. District Court of Maryland against four West Baltimore property owners the rail provider claims stand in the way of replacing the aging Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel.
In filing the lawsuit, Amtrak cites eminent domain statutes as giving it the authority to acquire the properties essentially by force for the public good — in this case public transportation.
The tunnel, part of the Northeast Corridor line, one of the busiest in the country, connects Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Amtrak claims that the 1.4-mile, 150-year-old tunnel is responsible for persistent delays of trains that run between the two cities and beyond. The new tunnel, which will be called the Frederick Douglass Tunnel, would be constructed slightly to the north of the current tunnel.
The properties at issue are located at 1002, 1006, 1008 and 1016 N. Payson St. Amtrak’s lawsuit — filed under its formal name of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation — seeks to acquire and condemn the properties through eminent domain.
The Baltimore Business Journal first reported the lawsuit.
The suit details numerous problems facing the old tunnel, including “excessive water infiltration, a deteriorating structure, and a sinking floor.” The complaint outlines the proposed improvements the new tunnel will provide and asserts Amtrak’s authorization to acquire the properties “because they are necessary for intercity rail passenger transportation.”
The lawsuit names entities of both Baltimore City and the state of Maryland as defendants because city and state entities might have interest in one or more of the properties through liens.
The lawsuit also details Amtrak’s failed attempts to purchase the four properties from the owners, claiming that Amtrak had entered into a purchase agreement to buy at least one of them. The lawsuit indicated that Amtrak has deposited with the court the amounts of $52,000, $56,652, $85,000 and $73,800 as just compensation (based on fair market value) for the four properties.
The lawsuit states that failure of the defendants to respond within 21 days amounts to “consent to the taking and to the authority of the Court to proceed to hear the action and to affix the compensation.”
In January, President Joe Biden visited Baltimore’s Penn Station to help formally kick off the tunnel project. Gov. Wes Moore, Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller and Mayor Brandon Scott attended. Biden and Moore highlighted the potential for the project to create jobs. Biden cited 20,000 “good-paying construction jobs,” while Moore raised the ante, citing 30,000 “good, strong union jobs.”
Amtrak estimates the cost of the tunnel replacement to be $6 billion, about $4.7 billion paid for with federal funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The Maryland Department of Transportation has pledged $450 million toward the project; Amtrak has promised $750 million.
In addition to creating a new tunnel, the project will add new railroad bridges, rail systems, track and an Americans With Disabilities Act-accessible MARC station in West Baltimore.