Rail fans seek info at forum
Duluthian Kay Rieck said she supports the concept of the Northern Lights Express train from Duluth to Minneapolis. Carl Sack of Superior and Claire Kirch of Duluth questioned the fluctuating and often high cost estimates of a train ticket. All th...
Duluthian Kay Rieck said she supports the concept of the Northern Lights Express train from Duluth to Minneapolis.
Carl Sack of Superior and Claire Kirch of Duluth questioned the fluctuating and often high cost estimates of a train ticket.
All three attended a public forum Wednesday seeking answers to many questions.
About 150 inquiring citizens, union railroad workers and train supporters at a Minnesota Department of Transportation open house at the introduction of a statewide study into freight and passenger rail options. MnDOT said a follow-up meeting with more detail will come in October.
"My earliest memory was boarding a train in Duluth for the Twin Cities, so it appeals to me that there might be a train that serves our modern needs," said Rieck comparing the 1960s to now. "I still question the feasibility, ridership and have concerns on the environmental and safety issues."
After the evening meeting at the Depot in downtown Duluth, Rieck said she remained optimistic and thankful for the openness of the meeting despite a lack of specific answers.
"I will want to see numbers by October," said Rieck, a retired mother who travels to the Twin Cities about once per month to visit her son.
Members of the United Transportation Union voiced concern on who would operate the 150-mile line, which is tentatively planned to run along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks through Superior, Hinckley, Cambridge and northern Twin Cities suburbs. Previous statements from Minneapolis-Duluth/Superior Passenger Rail Alliance members said it would be "privatized."
"If it's our tracks, we should supply the labor," said Peter Banks of Solon Springs, a retired train operator and union member. "With workers unemployed, it would be a travesty to see jobs scooped up where we have the experienced people to do it."
Operating the line could employ about 15 people in Duluth, estimated Rick Olson, a safety officer for the union.
Alliance member Ken Buehler downplayed those operational concerns.
"With the amount of federal and state money in the total, it will be union operators right down to the car attendants," he said.
The MnDOT study is planning to research opportunities for federal funding, which could include a slice of $8 billion in federal stimulus package set aside for rail. Funding for the Northern Lights Express, with a tentative price tag of $500 million, is expected to be 80 percent federal and 20 percent from the state.
Ticket prices are estimated at about $36 one-way between Duluth and Minneapolis, according to a poster at the meeting.
"There needs to be a heavy public subsidy to keep fares low," Sack said. "It will allow more people to use it."