Plans for fast passenger rail between the Twin Cities and Chicago hit a few big speed bumps

During a June visit, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi touted St. Paul’s Union Depot as a regional transportation hub for such projects as high-speed rail to Chicago.

Courtesy of OnBoard Midwest
During a June visit, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi touted St. Paul’s Union Depot as a regional transportation hub for such projects as high-speed rail to Chicago.

Early this year, the dream of high-speed passenger rail service seemed almost on the brink of becoming a reality.

Now, after the midterm elections, plans for the service linking Chicago and the Twin Cities could be sidetracked indefinitely, if not derailed, to the dismay of Minnesota rail boosters.

Last spring, a filled banquet room at St. Paul’s convention center heard keynote speaker Eric Peterson, president of the American High Speed Rail Alliance, lay out a template for bringing faster passenger trains to the United States. A few minutes later, panelists zooming in for a closer look at the topic drew a packed house at the University of Minnesota’s annual transportation research gathering.

Fueling the buzz was President Obama’s decision, a few months earlier, to provide $8 billion in stimulus grants to jump-start proposals designed to bring fresh, faster and more frequent passenger train service to 31 states.

Wisconsin came up as a huge winner, landing the fourth largest of those grants — fully 10 percent of the total, or $810 million. The money was seen as enough to build out the route between Milwaukee and Madison, a link absolutely essential to the proposed Twin Cities-Chicago high-speed rail corridor.

But in Milwaukee, Scott Walker was having none of this. Soon, Walker, the Milwaukee County executive, would make opposition to the Milwaukee-Madison rail link a centerpiece of his campaign for governor. Walker’s notrain.com website, which branded the project a boondoogle, urged Wisconsin voters to sign his letter to Obama asking that the $810 million grant be redirected to the growing backlog of bridge and road work needed throughout the state.

A video “open letter” from Scott Walker to President Barack Obama

On Nov. 2, Walker, a Republican, defeated Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to become Wisconsin’s next governor. Barrett and outgoing Gov. Jim Doyle, both Democrats, were strong supporters of the Milwaukee-Madison route.

Saying no to a big grant
Following his election victory, Walker reiterated that he wants the state to reject the grant. Work had already begun to upgrade two main segments of the link: the Canadian Pacific corridor now traversed by Amtrak’s Empire Builder passenger trains between Milwaukee and Watertown, and a state-owned rail corridor from Watertown on to Madison.

But in view of Walker’s post-election comments, Wisconsin Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi told contractors to halt work on the project. Days later, Doyle said he has “put the project on pause” so that Walker and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood can discuss it.

LaHood has said the grant can’t be redirected to road and bridge projects and will go to other states’ passenger rail initiatives if Wisconsin spurns the money.

On Friday, Walker moderated his position somewhat. He said he won’t push immediately for a final decision on whether the $810 rail grant for the Milwaukee-Madison link can be redirected to others uses as long as Doyle doesn’t try to restart construction of the line.

Gov.-elect Scott Walker

REUTERS/Darren Hauck
Gov.-elect Scott Walker

Scott Rogers, co-chair of the West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition in Eau Claire, says Wisconsin was the only state to get all of the money it asked for in the $8 billion round of grants. All told, the federal government received 259 proposals from 41 states asking for $57 billion. Now some of those grant-seekers are quickly lining up for the money that seemed headed for Wisconsin.

“This would mean we would have to go to the back of the line,” Rogers says. “That’s not a legacy we want to have.”

Chamber concerned
The St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce is among the leading backers of the higher-speed service to Chicago. The rail project is a key part of a $237 million plan to turn downtown St. Paul’s Union Depot into a major transportation hub.

Shelving the Milwaukee-Madison part of the Twin Cities-Chicago high-speed route “is definitely a concern for us,” says Zach Schwartz, transportation manager for the chamber.

“In recent days, Walker’s opposition to the grant has been generating more vocal support for it. A new savethetrainwisconsin.org website now claims 8,000 backers. And on Sunday, Wisconsin’s largest daily newspaper, the Journal Sentinel in Milwaukee, published a lengthy editorial urging Walker to reconsider his position.”

Proposals for beefing up passenger rail service in Minnesota were not an issue in the state’s gubernatorial campaign this year. But one other newly elected GOP governor, Ohio’s John Kasich, has also pledged to reject federal stimulus money that was part of Obama’s $8 billion round of grants.

However, that stipend, half the size of the Wisconsin grant, was to help resurrect Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati passenger service with trains running at maximum speeds of only 79 miles an hour. The proposed Twin Cities-Chicago trains could reach speeds of 110 miles an hour.

And unlike the Milwaukee-Madison route, the Ohio corridor would not be part of the proposed higher-speed network upgrade that would fan out across the Midwest from a hub in Chicago.

Key cog in Midwest network
The Twin Cities-Chicago route accounts for a fourth of the projected ridership for all of the higher-speed rail routes proposed to originate in Chicago, according to Minnesota rail planner Dave Christianson.

The proposal has been backed by a tri-state alliance of state governments in each of the three states that would be part of the route: Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois. If Wisconsin pulls out, plans for the service linking Chicago and the Twin Cities are endangered.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has been designated as the lead agency in planning for the portion of the route running from the Madison area over to the Twin Cities. MnDOT has been working with Wisconsin transportation planners to choose that part of the route.

All of the realistic routes proposed between the two metropolitan areas include considerable stretches in Wisconsin, says Christianson, who is MnDOT’s project manager for Minnesota’s rail plan.

But after Busalacchi’s disclosure, the steady run of emails and conference calls between Wisconsin and Minnesota planners working on the Chicago-Twin Cities route suddenly ceased, Christianson says.

Christianson describes the Milwaukee-Madison rail corridor project as “completely ‘shovel-ready,'” a term that has been applied to federal stimulus projects ready to go and thus able to create jobs quickly.

Obama’s grants, to move ahead on long-gestating proposals to establish Chicago as a hub for enhanced passenger rail service, differ from stimulus-backed plans for faster service in Florida and California. Those two states won grants to help fund initiatives for trains moving at more than 220 miles an hour. Such speeds are comparable to those of the bullet trains that operate in France, Japan and now China, in new rail corridors rather than on upgraded existing tracks.

The proposals for routes fanning out from Chicago to the Twin Cities and other Midwest metropolitan centers are more modest and far less pricey than for “true high-speed” bullet trains. But while they call for trains to operate only half as fast and to share the tracks with freight trains, their amped-up speeds would clip more than two hours from the more than eight hours it now takes Amtrak’s Empire Builder to make the Chicago-to-St. Paul journey.

The timing for the proposed service is five and three-fourths hours from downtown Chicago to St. Paul’s Union Depot. Stops in downtown Madison and elsewhere could boost the time to slightly more than six hours. Extending the route to Target Field in Minneapolis would add another 20 minutes.

That means the trains could make the journey in roughly the time it took each of three competing passenger trains — The Milwaukee Road’s Hiawatha, the Burlington’s Zephyr and the Chicago & North Western’s 400 — to do it in the 1930s.

Jobs, jobs, jobs
Walker pledged to shape a business climate that would lead the private sector to create 250,000 in Wisconsin by the end of his first term, but the immediate impact of rejecting the stimulus grants would cost jobs. Project officials have estimated that construction employment would peak at 4,732 jobs in 2012 and that operations and maintenance of the route would add 55 permanent jobs. Transit-oriented development along the route is also expected to generate new jobs.

Talgo, a Spanish train manufacturer, recently opened a plant in Milwaukee in part because of the prospect of building train sets for the Milwaukee-Madison route. The company had hoped to employ 125 workers there by next year. Now it is weighing a move out of Wisconsin if the route is abandoned.

But if the $810 million could somehow be steered to road projects, that would also create construction jobs. Walker’s campaign was heavily backed by road builders.

Walker also has criticized the cost of subsidizing operations of the trains, estimated at $7.5 million a year once the route goes into service. Project backers counter that the federal government would provide almost all of that subsidy, as it does now for Amtrak’s popular passenger rail service between Milwaukee and Chicago.

More hurdles
Walker’s position isn’t the only hurdle to making high-speed rail linking the Twin Cities and Chicago a reality.

Estimates for the cost of building the route out from the Madison area to the Twin Cities range from $800 million to $2 billion, according to Christianson. The cost depends partly on which route is chosen and on how the trains get into the Madison area. The two routes seen as leading contenders are:

• Amtrak’s current route, which runs from St. Paul southeast along the west shore of the Mississippi River to enter Wisconsin at La Crosse.

• Existing, freight-only tracks that head east from St. Paul into Wisconsin at Hudson and then on to Eau Claire and the Madison area.

The capital costs for either route could be spread out over many years and shared by Wisconsin, Minnesota and the federal government.

However, uncertainty about the financing for many passenger rail projects could grow because of rising concern about federal and state deficits. And the surprising defeat this month of James Oberstar, Minnesota’s 18-term Democratic congressman, won’t help.

Oberstar, who headed the House Transportation Committee, was an influential champion of passenger rail projects. Now, with Republicans about to take control of the House, that committee chairmanship is likely to go to Rep. John Mica, a Florida Republican expected to look more skeptically on passenger rail projects than did Oberstar.

Rail agency swamped
Another problem has surfaced at the Federal Railroad Administration, which is working with the states to oversee the stimulus grants and must sign off on plans for the routes.

At the annual meeting of the West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition in Baldwin, Wis. early this fall, Christianson said the railroad administration lacked the staff to deal with passenger rail projects when the stimulus grants were announced. Thus it had to pull in several dozen staffers from other agencies. That process has contributed to a delay of about a year in approving plans for the Madison area-Twin Cities route, he said.

Christianson remains a strong believer in the Twin Cities-Chicago high-speed project, which could still be up and running by 2016 if somehow its many challenges get resolved. He cites studies showing that the service could attract up to 2.4 million riders annually and pay its own way two years after it begins operating.

And despite all the problems, rail advocates like Scott Rogers argue that high-speed rail linking the Twin Cities and Chicago is inevitable, sooner or later. They envision demand for the service growing, thanks to ever-higher gas prices, soaring costs of highway construction, greater road congestion, more younger Americans turning off on driving, and less pollution from trains than from other modes of transportation.

“We don’t see any way that this corridor is not going to be successful,” says Christianson.

Rush Loving Jr., a retired Fortune magazine editor who has followed passenger rail controversies for years, says that many of today’s budget-squeezed governors may not be in a mood to spend more for new projects when they have to fix up old ones.

“Wisconsin is probably a good example,” Loving says. “It’s going to get worse as all governments look for cuts. The fiscal crisis we’re in makes short-term fixes very attractive, but it’s probably short-sighted because long-term, money spent for rail is well-spent.”

Dave Beal writes about business and the economy. He can be reached at dandcbeal (at) msn (dot) com.

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Comments (30)

  1. Submitted by Glenn Mesaros on 11/15/2010 - 06:32 am.

    Real Lincoln Republicans build railroads. Here is a description of the 1883 celebration in Mpls/St.Paul after the completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad from Duluth to Seattle:

    In the magnificently decorated banquet hall, huge state seals proclaimed
    the thoroughfare of the NPRR, entitled, “Minnesota – The Terminal State –
    N.P.R.R. Mississippi and Lake Superior” “Dakota – The Granary of the World”
    “Montana – Cattle on a Thousand Hills” “Idaho – Gold and Silver are Ours”
    ” Washington Territory – Ye Monarch of the Forest” “Oregon – To the Orient –
    the Pacific State”. Featured in prominent juxtaposition to these state
    seals were the names of the ten principal trading citites of the world –
    Calcutta, Bremen, Canton, Havre, San Francisco, Liverpool, New Orleans, New
    York, and Hamburg, each portrayed in shields with their national colors. All
    shields and seals are connected with streamers of red and gold connected to
    a hub in the ceiling.

    Dignitaries at the head tables featured President Arthur, former President
    and General Ulyssess Grant, NPRR President Henry Villard, General Tecumseh
    Sherman, General Terry, cabinet members, and many others, who undoubtedly
    viewed with pride one of the most astounding celebrations ever created to
    celebrate the American System.

    Shame on these GOP imposters who seek to destroy their American legacy, of which they are totally ignorant.

  2. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/15/2010 - 08:06 am.

    Politically, I would describe what’s going on here as a loss of confidence in the principle of government investment and planning, in the face of the demonstrated incapacity of contemporary government to do an adequate job of investment and planning.

    That incapacity is largely due to political opposition to government intervention in the economy, either for ideological reasons or because it entails higher taxes or because it treads on the toes of vested business interests. But the fact that the government can’t get its act together to create a decent modern passenger rail network doesn’t mean that governments in general are incapable of doing so, or that it isn’t a good idea.

    A more narrow response to the rail problem, specifically, would be to encourage a BOT deal in which the government uses eminent domain to create the rail corridor and turns to the private sector to raise the capital, build it and perhaps run it. But, again, this doesn’t question the need for the government to plan national infrastructure, which seems to me to be pretty hard to deny.

  3. Submitted by Race Bannin on 11/15/2010 - 08:38 am.

    There is a great website with lots of additional information on the renovation of the Saint Paul Union Depot and Lowertown in general. Check it out at http://www.lowertownlanding.org They have future development photos, videos, news, and lots of additional information.

  4. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/15/2010 - 09:35 am.

    Delta Airlines: Minneapolis to Chicago

    10 flights daily.

    1 hour travel time.

    $287 Round trip.

    =================================

  5. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/15/2010 - 10:51 am.

    Finally, one of the posters asks who would take the train instead of aircraft?

    Well, compare:

    Train:
    Up to 8 hours on a train, in a comfortable seat, with lots of room, where you can get up and move around easily, where there is plenty of room to work; leave from downtown, and arrive downtown; arrive rested and happy.

    Airline:
    Three hours getting to the airport, going through security, waiting to board, and boarding;
    sitting on the tarmac cooped up with your knees jammed against your elbows in a narrow, uncomfortable seat, in a claustrophobia-inducing tube for 45 minutes waiting to take off;
    spend 45 minutes actually flying;
    spend another hour getting through the airport and into town; and
    arrive tired and irritated.

    It might take longer by train, but it is far more comfortable, it is far easier to work productively, and you don’t have to put up with security nonsense.

  6. Submitted by Pat Borzi on 11/15/2010 - 11:20 am.

    As a frequent traveler originally from the Northeast, I side with Mr. Schulze. Mr. Swift makes the same cut-and-paste argument he always does, changing only the price (which keeps rising), and presuming the airline’s timetable is the only investment in time. You can’t ignore what happens on both ends — getting to MSP 90 minutes early to clear security, and the hour-plus it can take to get from O’Hare or Midway to downtown. So the actual “running” time for a Chicago flight is 31/2 hours, presuming no delays. Obviously, that’s faster than the train. But I’d gladly take a 51/2 hour train downtown to downtown if the train is comfortable, and I can spend the additional two hours on my laptop being productive. And I’ll bet I’m not alone.

  7. Submitted by John N. Finn on 11/15/2010 - 11:21 am.

    For the time being at least, air travel Twin Cities to Chicago offers multiple schedules, “cheap” fares, and less travel time. But how many stops along the way could the airlines offer?

    As noted, you need to include time for security screening for air travel. I wonder if screening will eventually become a factor for rail travel if it becomes more widespread?

  8. Submitted by Bill Coleman on 11/15/2010 - 11:27 am.

    So the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce is now in favor of federal transportation dollars….

    So now Mr. Swift is now promoting the use of government financed airports…

    As for the State of Wisconsin, good luck to the citizens of that state who would elect someone ready to turn back that kind of strategic economic development investment connecting their research center (Madison) with their manufacturing corridor (Milwaukee) as well as enabling links to Chicago and the Twin Cities.

    The Tea is tasting bitter already!

  9. Submitted by Deborah Irestone on 11/15/2010 - 11:42 am.

    Delta to Chicago:
    from Mr Swift’s post-“$287 Round trip.”
    I just checked for lowest fare on Delta’s website and lowest is #26 + fees = $347.40.
    Trip on the train includes all of Mr. Schulze’s amenities and the cost is $152 on the Amtrack website. AND you get to watch the world go peacefully by. This past summer we took the train from Vancouver to Seattle and loved it!
    If I had the time I would choose the restful way-by rail.

  10. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/15/2010 - 11:48 am.

    “…arrive rested and happy”..to find that I’ve already been there, got the job, and am back at the office working on it.

    Welcome to the 21st Century, Richard; don’t forget to claim your bowler as you exit the parlour car.

  11. Submitted by TJ Jones on 11/15/2010 - 11:59 am.

    Pat paints a very compelling picture of the business executive working on his laptop in a comfortable coach. My only reminder – is that worth a $1.5 billion government subsidy?

  12. Submitted by Josh Lease on 11/15/2010 - 12:11 pm.

    6 hours may be too long of a trip to make it a real alternative to air shuttle to & from Chicago. They probably need to cut that down by another hour to make it effective. Then it becomes competitive in terms of time with air and the comfort and productivity increase with rail makes it more viable. The next question is going to be price. If the rail ticket clocks in at $100 less than the plane ticket, people are going to jump on it. Especially when you consider how many hidden charges are getting tacked on to air travel.

    High-speed rail is a viable solution for travel under 500 miles. You can create viable rail lines between cities and it will be an economical and environmentally friendly alternative. But it needs to be done correctly out the gate.

    I do wonder what the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce thinks about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce doing everything it can to kill the projects the SPCC supports, though. No more Oberstar…Kline the leader of the MN delegation in the House…where is the support for MN transportation projects going come from? McCollum can’t do it all.

  13. Submitted by Brian Simon on 11/15/2010 - 12:34 pm.

    “the trains could make the journey in roughly the time it took … to do it in the 1930s.”

    That is comically pitiful.

  14. Submitted by Francis Ferrell on 11/15/2010 - 01:07 pm.

    It’s a sad for this country when Progress and visions for the future become political digressions to the reactionary past. No wonder other countries are surpassing us in many areas of science and technology.

    This country has been in economic dire straits before but has always risen to the crisis to become better. High Speed Rail[HSR] is a great example of better technology and creativeness overcoming a major transportation problem and offering fruitful solutions for the future.

    Where would this country be if the Republican Congresses and President Eisenhower didn’t initiate the Interstate Highway System and expand air travel or air facilities expansion and infrastructure? Since the US highway and air traffic infrastructures are burgeoning beyond capacity or use isn’t time we revamped or rebuild our rail capabilities?

    There is an old axiom which states; “Build it and they will come.” This axiom has held true for the Interstates and air travel in this country. With the problems now facing these travel infrastructures it is time for HSR to come to the forefront to propel us further into the future.

    This nation, economy, and people need a jump start for a better future. High Speed Rail is a start to such a promise.

  15. Submitted by Gary Derong on 11/15/2010 - 01:33 pm.

    Students are attracted to rail transit — see Seattle, Portland, Boston, Chicago, New York, Phoenix — but appear to be invisible to Scott Walker. They are the ones who would gladly take on the challenge of getting this Chicago-St. Paul line up to speed once it is in place. Milwaukee already is paying dearly for rejecting a rail line along I-94 in the 1970s with its stagnation and segregation. Those of us who left in the ’70s for Minnesota will be welcoming a greater inflow of native Wisconsinites to the Twin Cities if Mr. Walker continues to impede demand for rail infrastructure.

  16. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/15/2010 - 01:54 pm.

    “There is an old axiom which states; “Build it and they will come.” This axiom has held true for the Interstates and air travel in this country.”

    Right; cars and planes are wildly popular. Choo-choo trains? Well, not so much:

    //Northstar turning a year old as ridership lags//

    http://www.startribune.com/local/107263788.html

    And didn’t Amtrack used to run between Duluth and Minneapolis? How’d that work out.

    Trains might make sense for trips of between 100-200 miles, as in Europe, but they will never be utilized in a country as big as ours as long as there are alternatives.

  17. Submitted by Glenn Mesaros on 11/15/2010 - 01:58 pm.

    Here’s how the Rand Paul barbarians define American exceptionalism:

    The rest of the world is developing high speed rail, including Mag Lev trains, but we are exceptionally stupid, so we will sit in traffic jams for hours and hours, and listen to Rage Radio!

  18. Submitted by Arito Moerair on 11/15/2010 - 03:35 pm.

    I’m a big rail advocate, and I support this line, but it’s only a very very minor effort in the right direction.

    Six hours to Chicago? Forget that. We have family there and will need a mode of transport upon arrival in the Windy City. So it takes us 7-8 hours by car. But when we get there, we have our car. Otherwise we’re stuck downtown with no way to get to the burbs. And what about the departure from St Paul? Are we paying to park at the station over the weekend? Please.

    Add up all the inconveniences and it’s easier to just flippin drive. To make this thing really work, you need TRUE high-speed rail; I’m talking 200+ mph. Anything less and it isn’t worth it. Stopping in Madison and Milwaukee? It’s good for them but it slows the thing down; cut out stations there and you save money.

    The problem is that the project has been whittled down by wingnuts. A real high-speed line could be built, but then somebody would whine about paying 18 cents extra in taxes. Meanwhile, China builds rail lines like we build F-35s. Maybe I can fly one of those to Chicago.

  19. Submitted by Arito Moerair on 11/15/2010 - 03:50 pm.

    Thomas Swift: “…but they will never be utilized in a country as big as ours as long as there are alternatives.”

    Are you kidding me? Have you ever been to Chicago? It’s called the El and the Metra. Then there’s the NYC subway. The Washington DC metro. Bay Area Rapid Transit in San Fran. The whole NE between Boston and Washington is full of light and heavy rail. LA and San Diego both have rail transit.

    This is the same kind of mindset that thinks global warming is disproved when it snows in Minnesota.

  20. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 11/15/2010 - 04:05 pm.

    A well-functioning rail system is not just about travel, but about national security as well.

    In the 1980s, a huge blizzard shut down all the airports and roadways in the western half of the country. Only trains were able to keep moving — a little slowly, but moving, carrying people and goods.

    In these days, if a terrorism scare closes down air travel or a hurricane like Katrina shuts down all evacuation routes from a city, people can still be saved and the military can reach most parts of the country by train.

  21. Submitted by David Greene on 11/15/2010 - 04:23 pm.

    David, there is excellent public transport from downtown Chicago to the suburbs. I’ve used it many times. Here in the Twin Cities…it is passable but certainly inconvenient. One can in fact get to the St. Paul depot by bus. I’ve done that too. It will become much more convenient when it’s moved to Union Depot.

  22. Submitted by David Greene on 11/15/2010 - 04:25 pm.

    So SPACC is now lamenting the loss of high-speed rail. That’s rich. Perhaps they should have thought of that before supporting candidates who outright pledged to halt infrastructure investment.

    Thanks a bunch, MN businesses. We really appreciate what you’ve done to our quality of life.

  23. Submitted by Glenn Mesaros on 11/15/2010 - 06:06 pm.

    CHINA: Minister of Railways Liu Zhijun attended a ceremony at Bengbu in Anhui Province on November 15 where a machine laid the final rails to complete tracklaying on the 1,318 km Beijing – Shanghai high speed line (818 miles).

    The People’s Daily Online reports that the scheduled 2012 opening has been brought forward to October 2011, in time for the mass movement of people which occurs during Chinese New Year celebrations.

    The route is designed for service speeds of 380 km/h, (236 MPH) cutting the Beijing South – Shanghai Hongqiao travel time to 4 hours from a current fastest trip of 10 hours. There will be 21 stations serving cities including Tianjin, Jinan, Nanjing and Suzhou.

  24. Submitted by William Pappas on 11/15/2010 - 06:39 pm.

    Mr. Moufang,

    I agree with you that the higher the speed the more practical that line becomes. Aren’t there trains to the burbs in Chicago? When I visit my in laws we frequently take commuter trains from the northwest suburbs into the city. It takes a little less than an hour. Sorry to break the news to you Mr. Swift but train travel within east coast cities and between them is simply indispensible. Most young people and many older ones don’t even own a car. They don’t fly around that region, they take the train! It’s easy, doesn’t require all that security, and generally gets you close to where you want to go. Once you get used to it a car is the last thing you actually want to have out there. Those trains change the entire dynamic of how a city functions. It litterally pulls the city closer together, making it more accessible to everyone. That obviously is good for business, especially small business.

  25. Submitted by jim hughes on 11/15/2010 - 09:06 pm.

    Interesting how trains, and mass transit in general, have now become a ‘liberal’ thing – along with evolution, climate science, and a lot of other progressive nonsense. These FOX News fanboys wouldn’t even be satisfied with rolling us back to the 19th century – their new target is the 18th, probably before Ben Franklin started talking up science. What was Dwight Eisenhower thinking of, when he approved the interstate highway system? It must have been a Commie plot. And remember, all our airports were built without any public subsidies – right?

  26. Submitted by Robert van Wormer on 11/16/2010 - 11:12 am.

    Nearly everyone commenting on the Chicago-Minneapolis train seems to forget that there are more stations on the line than just the end points. Thus unlike the air trip so many compare the train to there is a much larger number of possible trips. Most of these places have no or poor air service, often not even an intercity bus. These cities include Winona, Lacrosse,Portange and others.
    It’s important not to think of only one mode of travel when planning transportation for a region. A good question is how can they all be fitted together to create the greatest efficiency in mobility.

  27. Submitted by Gary Derong on 11/16/2010 - 02:35 pm.

    To emphasize your point, Mr. Van Wormer, consider that the Wisconsin Dells area has been rated as the top family destination in the country and third in the world by Tripadvisor.com. We Midwesterners know the area easily becomes overrun by cars in the summer, so imagine what it will be like now that the rest of the country has discovered it. But if Amtrak follows its plan of increasing service to six round trips a day between St. Paul and Chicago, we could make use of the Amtrak station at the Dells while outliers clog the highways. The Dells area will have to adopt a shuttle service if it wants to serve all comers.

  28. Submitted by Alan Burden on 11/16/2010 - 02:41 pm.

    Thomas Swift says: “Right; cars and planes are wildly popular. Choo-choo trains? Well, not so much:”

    Yes, no doubt that would explain why ridership on all forms of trains in this country has nearly doubled in the past 30 years. And the only reason that it’s not growing faster is because we’re not building new lines fast enough.

    In 1979 American’s took 2.488 Billion rides on trains. Come 2008 that number was 4.473 billion rides taken.

    Or we could go look at the recent service started by Virginia in October 2009 from Lynchburg to DC. Virginia estimated a first year ridership of 50,000 and set aside money to subsidize things based upon that estimate.

    They hit that mark in March 2010, just 6 months into the first year of operations. By July, 9 months in, they had doubled the first year estimate. The finished the first year with more than 116K rides taken. And the state hadn’t spent 1 dime of the money set aside to subsize the train.

  29. Submitted by Alan Burden on 11/16/2010 - 02:46 pm.

    TJ Jones says: “Pat paints a very compelling picture of the business executive working on his laptop in a comfortable coach. My only reminder – is that worth a $1.5 billion government subsidy? ”

    We subsidized our airlines with far more money than that. Just the Federal subsidy was more than $2.5 Billion last year, and many local airports get support from the cities/states that they’re in. And then we have the EAS program where the Fed pays airlines to fly to small airports that otherwise wouldn’t have service.

    Or we could talk about the $34.5 Billion Federal subsidy to the highways last year. The $1.5B is a drop in the bucket compared to that.

  30. Submitted by Alan Burden on 11/16/2010 - 02:50 pm.

    Thomas Swift says: “”…arrive rested and happy”..to find that I’ve already been there, got the job, and am back at the office working on it.

    Welcome to the 21st Century, Richard; don’t forget to claim your bowler as you exit the parlour car.”

    Yes, Thomas, welcome to the 21st Century. Please don’t forget to ask the TSA for copies of your intimate photos as you leave the security area.

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