Written by Tom Steward | March 28, 2019

Rural Reporter Derails Star Tribune on New Amtrak Train to Duluth

The Star Tribune editorial board carries considerable weight as the voice of Minnesota’s biggest media outlet. But the paper’s recent endorsement of bringing back the failed Amtrak Twin Cities to Duluth-Superior passenger train just got derailed by a rural Pine County online website the ed board likely never heard of–PiCK News.

PiCK stands for Pine County Knows News, run by longtime local reporter Ailene “Gussie” Croup, who’s tracked the proposed Northern Lights Express (NLX) boondoggle from day one in 2007. She laid it on the line in a hard-hitting rebuttal run by the Star Tribune.

It was the beginning of millions of federal and state dollars being spent on a form of publicly funded transportation that would never serve most of the counties that paid those yearly dues.

The board of county commissioners who took on the name “NLX Alliance” waxed and waned. Three of them have died over the 12 years the alliance milked tax dollars from the counties of St. Louis, Lake, Pine, Isanti, Anoka and Hennepin in Minnesota and Douglas in Wisconsin, and the cities of Minneapolis, Duluth-Superior, Sandstone and Cambridge.

Several local governments have dropped out of the coalition, but most continued to go along for the ride at their taxpayers’ expense.

The alliance hired feasibility studies, consultants, planning and engineering firms, federal and state lobbyists.

A new state agency, the passenger-rail division of the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), was created for NLX to the tune of $500,000 per year, though it produces nothing and oversees nothing. Minnesota’s yearly omnibus/lights-on bills have continued to fund MnDOT’s passenger-rail bureau.

Surveys were taken and performed. However, central Minnesotans weren’t part of the survey unless they happened to be in Minneapolis. If memory serves me, the survey was done at the Mall of America.

The columnist’s thesis statement hit home most of all.

Keep in mind, when a company or individual is hired to do a survey or report, it isn’t asked to prove why something can’t work; it’s hired to find ways to massage information to prove the thing can work.

Step by step, Gussie’s op-ed dismantles any pretense of a financially sustainable project. Yet NLX continues to move ahead, powered by millions more wasted tax dollars in Gov. Walz’s budget proposal.

The poor counties of central Minnesota do not need another transportation tax to take riders to Target Field. The rest of the state should not be responsible for subsidizing this luxury, either. Northstar Rail is the lesson, with taxpayers subsidizing $18 to $22 per rider since it was put on the tracks.

NLX has nothing to offer east-central and greater Minnesota other than the promise of higher taxes for subsidized transportation that does not serve them.

Gussie Croup’s column also serves as a refreshing example of what journalism once claimed to be all about, namely “afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted,” which increasingly includes the government bureaucracy.

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