Don’t miss the train


by Conrad deFiebre | June 18th, 2009 • Don’t break out the Champagne yet, but developments this week hint that fast passenger rail service will be coming to Minnesota sooner rather than later. That’s welcome news, considering that for 13 years since Minnesota joined seven other Midwest states in an effort to build a fast rail system centered on a hub in Chicago, our only passenger train has been Amtrak’s Empire Builder, with its once-a-day, 8-hour-plus slog to the Windy City.

Hindsight is the official blog of Minnesota 2020. Hindsight gives the run down on the news that jumps out at us on the issues that matter. Often times these stories show us how much further we need to go to have progressive policy realized in Minnesota.

The Midwest Regional Rail Initiative’s plans call for six round-trips a day between St. Paul and Chicago. Trains would travel up to 110 miles per hour, not exactly European or Asian bullet speed, but fast enough to match cars and jetliners downtown-to-downtown, with greater comfort and convenience.

Guidelines for distribution of $8 billion in federal recovery funds ticketed for fast passenger rail were released Wednesday, and they appear to position the Midwest system in the top tier of 10 federally recognized corridors. That means chances are good that a Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison link, bolstered by $80 million in Wisconsin state bonding, could be among the first federal grantees in mid-September. If so, that part of the system could be running within a year or two.

The Midwest combine plans to extend that section to St. Paul within another year after that, if funding is available. President Obama has urged a major national initiative for high-speed rail, touting its potential to reduce highway and air traffic congestion, cut pollution and foreign oil consumption and spur economic growth. Last year, Congress and former President George W. Bush authorized an additional $5 billion over five years for passenger rail.

Minnesota leaders took an important step this year to partner with the federal government by authorizing $26 million in state bonds for passenger rail projects. As more funds become available from Washington, our policymakers should keep up the good work to make sure we don’t miss the train.

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