The recent news that the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) has selected its preferred high-speed rail route connecting the Twin Cities to Chicago is great news for Minnesota businesses and travelers. Mn/DOT’s decision to put high-speed rail down the Mississippi River corridor means Minnesotans could be riding a high-speed rail passenger train to places like Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis within the next 15 years. This is a bold step in the right direction.
For years, local government and business leaders have known that America’s current connections by airlines and automobiles between major regional cities are outdated and inefficient. While the rest of the world invested in new ways to move people and products, our country’s highways and airports became more crowded and continued to crumble.
The facts are just astounding. Today, more than a dozen countries have high-speed rail trains operating, and two-thirds of all high-speed rail trains operate in five countries: France, China, Japan, Germany and Spain. The United States’ only high-speed rail line connects Washington, D.C., to New York City and Boston, and though it only averages 80 miles per hour, it controls 69 percent of the air/rail market between New York and Boston and 53 percent between New York City and Washington, D.C.
China continues to lead the high-speed rail race. Five years ago, high-speed passenger rail accounted for less than 10 percent of China’s rail infrastructure spending. Today, China has dedicated 60 percent of its spending to high-speed rail. Now other countries are following China’s lead.
Turkey, Brazil, others planning projects
Within three years, at least 10 more countries will add high-speed rail lines. In Turkey, work has begun on an ambitious plan to build 358 miles of high-speed rail between Istanbul and Ankara, a distance comparable to the 400-mile Twin Cities to Chicago corridor. The 155 mile per hour train will decrease the travel time between the cities from six hours and 30 minutes to three hours. In Iraq, country officials are looking at connecting Bagdad to Basra by high-speed rail. New high-speed rail projects are planned in Brazil and operating in Russia and South Africa. If the United States doesn’t make an investment in high-speed rail now, the rest of the world will continue to pass us by.
Some in Washington, as well as in St. Paul, say America cannot afford to build a high-speed rail system. Imagine if President Dwight Eisenhower had decided that America could not afford the Interstate Highway System. It took more than 35 years of planning and debating before final approval was given for America’s largest public works project to become a reality. It takes vision and leadership to take an idea as bold as high-speed rail and turn it into a reality.
California moving ahead
While Congress and other states debate the merits of high-speed rail, California is leading with a modern high-speed rail line connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles. The new passenger rail line will have 800 miles of track with 24 stations. When complete, riders will be able to travel from the state’s two largest cities in under 2 hours and 40 minutes. That’s bold leadership.
Mn/DOT’s route announcement helps position Minnesota as a future leader for high-speed rail. While we are still years away from seeing high-speed rail trains traveling along the Mississippi River, now is the opportunity for our leaders to rally around a bold vision for connecting Minnesota to other parts of the Midwest and beyond.
Jerry Miller is chairman of the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission.