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EDITORIAL: Reality check: Who really needs a train?

Promoters of revived train service between the Twin Ports and Twin Cities are sounding more unbelievable each day. A study suggests the line would pump $1.1 billion into communities along the corridor. And a new finding adds $700 million to that ...

Promoters of revived train service between the Twin Ports and Twin Cities are sounding more unbelievable each day.

A study suggests the line would pump $1.1 billion into communities along the corridor. And a new finding adds $700 million to that sum if the "commuter" train stops near Grand Casino in Hinckley.

Numbers of that magnitude raise memories of ones pulled from a hat during preliminary Great Lakes Aquarium discussions. Far too few people stood up to question the blue-sky estimates, and the brave souls who spoke out were quickly demoted to Duluth's pariah caste.

In the long run, however, they were correct. Millions of taxpayer dollars subsidized a venture that was supposed to generate substantial cash. Now, taxpayer money is funding an unnecessary tourist venture rather than paving Duluth's streets.

Unfortunately, history is repeating itself, at least during the discussion phase. Few are asking whether the 110-mph train service is just another pipe dream being advanced by well-intentioned promoters who are blinded by their excessive exuberance. Nobody seems stunned by the gargantuan $362 million price tag and potential need for extended public subsidies.

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There's also a question about social responsibility. How can this project even appear on the radar while Americans are being told insufficient funds exist to upgrade the crumbling roads and bridges that already exist? And why is this project even being discussed while the federal government is experiencing a massive deficit and both Wisconsin and Minnesota are facing revenue shortfalls? Certainly, no private business would consider such a massive investment while bleeding red ink.

This route was not successful in the past, as everyone who traveled the train remembers. It existed only because Minnesota State Rep. Willard Munger carried enough political weight to secure a legislative subsidy. Once the public money dried up, the train disappeared.

If this project carries as much promise as promoters claim, they should bring it to a bank, present it to a group of well-funded angel investors or send a copy to an existing rail firm. If their business plan is believable, private financing should be no problem.

But if the risk exceeds what the private sector accepts, there's no reason it deserves public support. This certainly doesn't rise to the level of a public priority for the vast majority of overtaxed regional workers.

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