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Invest now in Minneapolis-Duluth rail project, a 21st century solution

No, no a thousand times no. That’s the constant refrain of Phil Krinkie, the former Republican legislator and now head of the MN Taxpayers League.

No to trains. No to Duluth. (“Minnesota’s proposed ‘train to nowhere,’ “ Nov. 24).  Really? I beg to differ.

Increasingly it’s clear that leaders and voters with vision want more than just roads, not that we don’t need to invest in them, too. A recent poll by Minnesota 2020 shows 72 percent of respondents agreed that the state should be exploring more ways to expand and promote regional rail services as a means of affordable and efficient transportation. A multimodel approach will result in the most cost and energy efficient solutions at a time when both rising energy costs and environmental stewardship are paramount.

Interest in rail is up across the country. In this past election, more than 70 percent of transit investments on ballots across the country passed.

Legislature agrees: We need better infrastructure
Our own Minnesota Legislature overrode the governor’s veto in order to advance the agenda for better infrastructure. Recent high gas prices brought the issue home for many people — we need to get Minnesota into the current century with transit investments, like Northern Lights Express, the proposed passenger rail project from Minneapolis to Duluth.

The National Passenger Rail Study Group identified this route as one of eight top priorities for development in the entire country. It’s not surprising when you look at the potential for success.  A recent feasibility study of the proposal demonstrates tremendous promise. Travel time will compete with cars. Economic stimulus could bring 13,775 jobs, $617 million in annual income and $1.8 billion in increased property values to Minnesota’s economy.

Northern Lights Express, or NLX, will connect the metropolitan centers of Duluth and Minneapolis, with a few key stops in between. The route is being championed by a joint powers board of county commissioners and city council members, along with community leaders. Dialogue is ongoing between the group and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, hosts to the Grand Casino in Hinckley, one of the top destinations in the entire state. 

A link to regional rail system
The NLX corridor will link to a regional rail system that someday soon may extend to Chicago and beyond. NLX is in position to benefit from new federal dollars available for rail projects.  In fact, we just received $1.1 million to advance the project during its preliminary stages.

Krinkie is wrong in his desire to save money now while causing Minnesota to fall further behind. We deserve better. I’m glad local leaders along the NLX corridor think so, too, and they are willing to work for it.

St. Louis County Commissioner Steve Raukar chairs the Minneapolis-Duluth/Superior Passenger Rail Alliance.

Want to add your voice?

If you’re interested in joining the discussion by writing a Community Voices article, email Susan Albright at salbright [at] minnpost [dot] com.

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Sara Linert on 12/02/2008 - 09:29 am.

    Phil Krinkie’s recent commentary on the “Train to Nowhere,” the proposed rail line from Minneapolis to Duluth, drew expected criticism. For example this article.  The Duluth News Tribune jumped into the fray saying, Traffic congestion, air pollution, gas prices, the hassle of airport security, and high airfares have created a positive perfect storm for passenger rail.  More than 200 cities and counties are actively asking Washington for rail funding. Duluth shouldn’t – and won’t play second fiddle.”

    That is precisely the point of Krinkie’s article:  If there is this “perfect storm” creating demand for passenger rail service, why aren’t greedy private entrepreneurs lining up to build rail lines and run trains?  Why are cities and counties lining up for public subsidies?  The answer is pretty simple:  the “perfect storm” is the perfect opportunity for parasitic cities and counties to prosper at the expense of taxpayers who will indefinitely subsidize the construction and operation of passenger rail.  

    The fundamental flaw of rail transit logic is that demand is high only because the private benefit of a train ticket is paid for by someone else.  If scamming taxpayers for private benefit is the future that this rail line holds for us, it is indeed a “train to nowhere.”

    To read Krinkie’s article go to

  2. Submitted by John Olson on 12/02/2008 - 01:43 pm.

    Personally, I am not sure whether or not a rail line to and from Duluth makes sense. What I do know is this:

    – The Amtrak North Star began in 1978 and ended in early 1985. Whether or not conditions have changed markedly since that time to support rail service between the cities and Duluth is debatable.

    – Railroads are mostly governed by federal law. So to try and make an argument that somehow an entrepreneur could/could not make it work ignores the realities of heavy federal regulation and oversight.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/02/2008 - 03:08 pm.

    T –$800 Billion and counting. Choo-choo Train to Nowhere Common Sense Check.

    [Democrat] leaders and voters with “vision” [aka kool-aid goggles]: “Go”

    National Passenger Rail Study Group: “Go”

    [Democrat] Legislature: “Go”

    Minnesota 2020: “Go”

    The Minneapolis-Duluth/Superior Passenger Rail Alliance: “Go, baby, go”

    Taxpayers: “WTF?”

  4. Submitted by John Olson on 12/02/2008 - 04:06 pm.

    Personally, I would rather see a faster way to get to and from Chicago. Amtrak is competitive fare-wise (well under $200 RT if you book earlier), but the reality is that it is 8+ hours one way and there is only one train daily. Sorry, that won’t work with my business schedule.

    Yeah, Southwest Airlines is advertising an initial RT airfare for MSP/MDW of $138, but how long will that last?

    If any investment in passenger rail is going to be made, I would rather see more frequent and faster service between MSP and Chicago versus MSP and Duluth.

  5. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 12/02/2008 - 09:58 pm.

    The problem with Phil Krinkie is that he opposes all rail projects, whether they make sense or not, so he has no credibility on the issue. We need to expand rail in Minnesota, but a line between the cities and Duluth is the absolute last place we need it.

    Rail makes sense for commuting into the cities from the suburbs. It would make sense to run a line out to Forest Lake or something on the northeastern edge of the metro area. I doubt there are too many people commuting to or from Duluth every day, and there just isn’t enough other traffic to justify a rail line. Duluth isn’t Chicago. Its a city with 86,000 people.

    The real problem is that getting to Duluth is really easy by car. There is a freeway that runs straight there. People take the light rail into Minneapolis because it is more convenient than driving. Taking a train to Duluth would by LESS convenient. It would take longer, probably cost more, and you would be stuck in Duluth without a car.

    This project is the kind of boondoggle that gives rail a bad name.

  6. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 12/04/2008 - 12:38 pm.

    Why aren’t private businesses lining up to build highways? The sad truth is that all transportation modes need to be subsidized (with the exception of the two feet you were born with).

    So if you are a fiscal conservative, you will look at the choices of transportation available to be subsidized, and you will choose the most efficient. That is, the transportation mode capable of carrying the most passengers at the lowest monetary cost. Which, of course, is rail transit.

  7. Submitted by David Thompson on 12/08/2008 - 04:31 pm.

    No, no, a thousand times no! The Twin Cities needs light rail and commuter rail, not inter-city rail. It will cost billions to build a mass-transit infrastructure in the Twin Cities. Don’t divert ANY of those resources for a boondoggle like Amtrak to Duluth. As for the outstate areas, what’s needed are highways, not rail. Remember how the transportation bill was finally passed in 2007? It contained provisions for ROAD improvements in southern Minnesota.

  8. Submitted by Dave Clark on 01/29/2009 - 03:29 pm.

    Well since Greyhound is now considering pulling out of their one-trip-per-day bus run to Duluth, that should leave an opening for a train with capacity for hundreds of passengers to run several times per day to Duluth.

    If Greyhound is closing up shop, they certainly aren’t filling all 54 seats on the bus every day, so I would guess they might be averaging no more than 20 or 30 passengers per day in order to be considering stopping service. The train will be able to pick up every one of those passengers. It makes perfect sense to use our tax money to get this off the ground, then it will just pay for itself with half a dozen people or so packing every train. Choo-Choo!

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