MN Legislators Pull the Plug on “High Speed” Rail Study

Wasteful new passenger rail projects have hit a wall under the Trump administration. But a temporary timeout from power in Washington never stops the elites at the Met Council and MnDOT from keeping pipe dreams like Southwest Light Rail Transit, the not-so-high-speed Northern Lights Express to Duluth and not-so high speed rail line to Milwaukee on the side track with just enough federal funding for obscure studies to keep hope alive.

Until now. Frivolous taxpayer funding to keep the Milwaukee to Twin Cities line on life support, despite the adamant opposition of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, just got shelved, the Star Tribune says, thanks to the vigilance of a pair of Minnesota state legislators.

An environmental study exploring the viability of high-speed passenger rail service between the Twin Cities and Milwaukee has been shut down after two Minnesota Republican legislators said it was a waste of taxpayer dollars.

In December, Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, and Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, objected to the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) accepting federal grant money to complete the study — largely because Wisconsin opposes high-speed rail.

“Minnesota should not be squandering precious tax dollars — whether local, state or federal — on a wasteful project actively opposed by other states whose support is necessary to proceed,” the legislators wrote in a letter to the commissioner of the Department of Management and Budget. Torkelson and Newman are chairmen of transportation committees in the Minnesota house and senate, respectively.

The end of the line for the pointless spending did not go over well with the usual suspects in state and local government.

Dan Krom, director of the MnDOT’s Passenger Rail Office, confirmed that work on the study has stopped after just over $1 million in state and federal money had already been spent on it. Torkelson and Newman were objecting to a final $181,682 grant that was expected from the Federal Railroad Administration.

The news upset advocates pushing for enhanced passenger rail service between the two Midwestern cities, now served by Amtrak’s Empire Builder line.

“That’s regrettable,” said Janice Rettman, a Ramsey County commissioner who chairs the Minnesota High Speed Rail Commission. “We fight so hard for dollars from the feds.”

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, who serves on the Transportation Finance and Policy Committee, called the decision “extremely unfortunate. Do they only want people to have cars and drive? They have a complete disregard for other modes of transportation.

Of course, there’s no such thing as high speed rail anywhere in the U.S., as reporter Janet Moore notes.

The United States has no true high-speed rail service. A report by the Midwest High Speed Rail Association attributes this to a lack of funding, the difficulty of getting state, local and municipal governments to agree on a plan, and outdated safety regulations and infrastructure. The majority of Amtrak trains share track with freight. And there’s Americans’ storied love of their automobiles.

Amtrak’s safety record raises even more questions, as I highlighted following the fatal derailment of the first run of a new “high speed” line in the state of Washington last month.

The tragedy revives the question American Experiment asked after Amtrak’s last highly publicized but preventable derailment at New York’s Penn Station a few months back: Do we really want Amtrak running trains in Minnesota?

One line down with the end of federal funds to perpetuate the Milwaukee to Twin Cities boondoggle. Now will legislators turn their sights on NLX?