For more information contact: Catherine Thompson 651-296-5499
Passenger rail connects people to places, providing an efficient, relaxing method of travel and an economic benefit to communities along the route. Given its many benefits to individuals and communities, we are very troubled that the Minnesota House and Senate Transportation committee chairs have stopped the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) from accepting already-allocated federal funds to continue environmental planning for the high-speed rail line connecting the Twin Cities to Chicago. These funds were the final installment of a federal grant allocated to complete a high-speed rail study. Minnesota has already invested $600,000 in state money and $400,000 in federal funds. It is common sense to continue the process, finish the planning and be prepared to go should all the funding be approved.
There is overwhelming evidence and data that passenger rail creates jobs and encourages community investments and development. According to MnDOT, construction on track improvements, stations and maintenance facilities has the potential to create thousands of jobs and millions in wages – including jobs directly and indirectly related to the construction.
Looking at the bigger picture, Amtrak and its passengers generate economic impacts of $7.9 billion and support over 90,000 jobs annually. Locally, restoration of the Saint Paul Union Depot created 660,000 hours of work for about 2,000 workers. Amtrak contracted with 50 vendors in the state of Minnesota, with a total economic impact of $21 million.
A Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission (MIPRC) study indicates a significant economic impact to 11 Midwestern states with passenger rail service. Amtrak had 931 vendors in these states, resulting in an economic impact of $282 million. By any measure, this is certainly a positive development for any state and certainly for individual communities along the routes.
Since January, 2010, the High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program (HSIPR), has supported nearly 150 projects in 35 states and the District of Columbia, including St. Paul’s Union Depot and the Northern Lights Express from St. Paul to Duluth. Supporters understand the big picture and the importance construction, upkeep and expansion funding has to a region. While Minnesota is rejecting federal funding, cities across the region are moving forward and seeing the beneficial results. The public wants and will use this transportation alternative.
Other Midwest states that have or are receiving federal funds, along with sustainable state funds, have resulted in improved and expanded services in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Wisconsin. We are behind in developing the network for passenger rail service identified in the Minnesota State Rail Plan. This network can provide both economic benefit and improved mobility for Minnesotans.
Passenger rail boosts tourism by bringing visitors to a community who shop, eat and enjoy other local amenities. Route cities see increased tourism which supports retail, business activity and increased tax revenues.
Passenger rail provides better mobility for those who don’t drive or own a car and adds to the livability of a community. It also offers a more economical mode of transportation than driving or flying.
Another less obvious advantage of passenger rail is increased safety. Passenger rails require a higher level of crossing protection. MnDOT and the Federal Railroad Administration have invested over $11 million in crossing safety improvements on the Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago (TCMC) corridor between St. Paul and La Crescent. Additional crossing safety improvements are being studied for the second daily train.
Governor Dayton recently released his public works proposal without passenger rail funding. Without support from the governor and legislative Republicans, we have an uphill scramble ahead of us to secure the needed funding to finish the study. Many in the legislature strongly support passenger rail for Minnesota. They recognize the positive economic impact great rail connections will have for all Minnesotans and will push for the funding to go forward. It is extremely short-sighted to turn back the Federal money. Let’s be smart and utilize the Federal money so the study is completed. We will then be ready to invest in future rail transportation to move Minnesota forward.
Rep. Alice Hausman represents St. Paul, Roseville, Falcon Heights and Lauderdale in the legislature and is the DFL Lead on the House Capital Investment committee.
Rep. Linda Slocum represents Richfield and Bloomington in the legislature and is the DFL Lead on the Commerce Committee. She is also the House of Representatives-appointed member of the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission.
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