NOTE: We have some good news to report on this from the state Senate, that we’ll post tomorrow, although there is still time in the 2022 legislative session – more than two weeks left – for this project to rear its head.
It’s BBBAAAAACCCK! AMTRAK to Duluth Just Won’t Die.
No bad idea ever really dies at the Minnesota Capitol. No, like all good horror movies, just when you think the villain is dead, they somehow are able to come back to life only to terrorize unsuspecting viewers all over again. And so it is with really bad ideas at the legislature – ideas that require a whopping amount of subsidies and ideas that have died decades before – they just keep coming back.
The newest and scariest idea being voted on in the House is to resurrect the four trips per day Amtrak train from Minneapolis to Duluth (with three stops along the way) – you know, just like the route that was cancelled in 1986 due to lack of ridership.
This time, rail enthusiasts are arguing that the Feds are offering “free money” for shovel-ready rail projects like this proposed Northern Lights Express route and if Minnesota doesn’t jump on the build rail bandwagon, another state will.
Because while our president enjoys the many “benefits” of this 19th Century technology, our state taxpayers figured out years ago that there are easier, quicker and less expensive ways to get to Duluth – it’s called 35W. And the added bonuses of driving to Duluth are many – including having a car to use once you arrive in the Duluth or the Twin Cities – but also the added benefit of stopping along the way at Tobies. With your car, you have the freedom to stop whenever you want – not where government planners make you stop.
What these rail devotees don’t want you to know is that while the federal government will provide up-front funding for some of the costs of modernizing the rail tracks for this 155-mile route, Minnesota taxpayers – like you and me, many of whom will never set foot on this rail line — will be asked to subsidize the operation of this train service in perpetuity – starting next year with an $85 million dollar taxpayer down payment. The general operating costs to keep the line operational with eight trips per day are extra and will only increase if/when the ridership doesn’t meet expectations – which it will not.
These last two years have been devastating for many Minnesota businesses but especially so for the tourism industry that pre-pandemic, employed over a quarter of a million Minnesotans and generated nearly $1 billion in annual sales tax for the state. Conversely, train ridership, commuter rail and even dependable regular route bus service, collapsed.
While bus ridership is slowly rebounding in the Twin Cities, rail ridership on the Northstar Commuter Rail line remains virtually non-existent and should be discontinued, regardless of the financial consequences of paying back the federal government for this failed experiment.
In light of the pandemic collapse of rail, the last thing the legislature should do is resurrect a previously failed rail line to Duluth with the delusional expectation that it will somehow generate more riders today than it did in its heyday.
There’s a reason why filmmakers made millions producing 12 versions of “Friday the 13th” movies – some people never learn that the ending of every horror movie is virtually the same – very scary. In Minnesota we call them legislators.