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Legislators should send a positive signal on Minnesota's interest in high-speed rail

While partisan differences continue to move our government to a near standstill, the world around us continues to move at a rapid rate. Political unrest in the Middle East and North Africa continues to put pressure on global oil prices. Developing nations like China, India and Brazil further expand, driving demand for oil exponentially higher.

As a result of world events, the price at the gas pump now changes daily, if not hourly. Airlines continue to find new ways to pass the cost of fuel to customers. The cost of oil threatens to pull our country back in to a recession.

As lawmakers argue whether or not we can afford to build and operate trains connecting regional cities, China continues to build upon its existing 3,100-mile high-speed rail system. In June, China is opening an 819-mile high-speed rail line connecting Beijing to Shanghai that will cut travel time from 10 hours to just four. That's twice the distance of the proposed high-speed rail line connecting the Twin Cities to Chicago. While we continue to study high-speed rail, China has committed to building a network of 8,100 miles by 2012.

High-speed rail stands to be the biggest U.S. infrastructure investment since the federal interstate highway system in the 1950s. President Barack Obama made it a central theme to his vision for "winning the future," even laying out a planned $53 billion investment in high-speed rail over six years in his 2012 budget proposal, not counting the $8 billion already appropriated to the cause in the initial stimulus bill of 2009.

Walker's choice didn't end developments
While many concluded Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's refusal of federal rail funds was the end of the line for Minnesota's hope of seeing its own high-speed line this decade, recent events should prove this conclusion to be anything but the case.

Recent developments in Wisconsin only affect connecting Milwaukee to Madison via high-speed rail. Right now, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is conducting a high-speed-rail study examining numerous possible passenger rail routes between the Twin Cities and Chicago. A recent study identified a Twin Cities to Chicago connection as a priority for the Midwest.

Jerry Miller
Courtesy of City of Winona
Jerry Miller

If Minnesota wants to be included in the country's transportation future, state lawmakers need to oppose legislation that cuts $26 million from bonding money already allocated to passenger rail. This legislation undermines investments in high-speed rail and sends a clear signal that Minnesota is not interested.

Investments in high-speed rail are needed to bring our nation's transportation infrastructure into the 21st century, at a time when oil prices, social patterns and economic development all point toward a need for alternative transportation and a rebirth of passenger rail.

Economic development – and more
The benefits of high-speed rail for the local population are significant. There is no doubt economic development will be spurred by a stronger, faster and more cost-efficient connection between the Twin Cities and Chicago.

Take for example the economic benefit our state would see from such an investment. The Midwest Regional Rail Initiative completed an economic impacts analysis in 2006 that identified the creation of 1,600 permanent jobs and an estimated $2.3 billion of overall economic benefit to Minnesota directly attributed to investing in high-speed rail.

A high-speed alternative will not only enhance the quality of life for many Minnesotans, but also would be a boon to commerce, create jobs and make our state and country more competitive in the 21st century. Minnesota's leaders should not let short-term obstacles interfere with long-term plans to develop high-speed rail in Minnesota and the upper Midwest.

Jerry Miller is the chair of the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission and the mayor of Winona.

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Comments (4)

Sorry! MN does not want this stinking High Speed Rail. It Is a Lose, Lose Situation!!!!. Tax payer funded for very few riders! Take the Bus!!!!

For a number of years, I have owne a French stock called Alstom (little known here in the U.S).

They manufacture what is called "Very High Speed Rail" -- trains that can easily go 200 MPH, or faster on trial runs. They are a major player internationally, and a visit to their website not only shows the extremely exciting installations they are making around the world, but also a description of their leading edge transportation products. Americans have no idea what we are missing by not having this desirable form of transportation in our country. Fast, safe, comfortable, cost efficient, less dependance on imported oil, and a positive experience.

It is pathetic how we are now, as a great nation, lagging behind what the rest of the world is seeing as the future.

Right on, Myles and Jerry Miller. Our addiction to the automobile is costing us in many ways. We are a Third World country in public transportation.

Countries that have or are building high-speed rail: Japan (the pioneer since 1964, with new lines all the time), China, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam (Vietnam!), France, Germany, the UK.

The Amtrak ride from Minneapolis to Chicago is already the most pleasant way to go, but it takes too long, due to having to defer to freight and stop in Milwaukee as well. The Japanese Shinkansen runs a distance comparable to Minneapolis-Chicago in about 3.5 hours, and that's downtown to downtown, pretty good when you consider the hassles of getting to and from the airport.

Before the Shinkansen was built, the same kinds of naysayers who criticize high-speed rail here were at work in Japan. "Trains are old-fashioned. We should build freeways instead. Nobody will ride it. We can't afford it." Now, 47 years later, the technology is continually being updated. The trains account for 1/3 of all traffic between Tokyo and Osaka, the two largest cities. Demand is so great that four trains an hour has grown to twelve trains an hour. It is the most profitable part of the Japanese rail system.

It's a good thing they didn't listen to the naysayers.