Local view: Europe can keep fast trains, and we can keep our pickups
We're just sitting on the sidelines while they are eating our lunch." Those were words spoken by outgoing 8th Congressional District congressman and House Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar in a Nov. 17 article in the News Tribune. Ob...
We're just sitting on the sidelines while they are eating our lunch."
Those were words spoken by outgoing 8th Congressional District congressman and House Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar in a Nov. 17 article in the News Tribune. Oberstar had just come back from a short trip to France, where he made observations about their heavily subsidized rail-transportation system. He also commented that gas in Europe was $3 to $4 per gallon more expensive than here because taxes from gas sales there are used to subsidize rail transit.
I don't mean to come down hard on Jim Oberstar. He's certainly been through a lot lately. However, issues regarding subsidized passenger rail transport will persist well beyond Oberstar's legacy. The issues include the proposed passenger rail line between Duluth and the Twin Cities.
Many of us have been on a European vacation, or at least have friends who have spent time across the Atlantic. They speak of rich history, fantastic architecture, wonderful food, fashion and a transportation system where automobiles take a back seat to trains. Also, because gas is two to three times more expensive, Europeans drive much smaller cars that do not consume nearly as much gas as many of the vehicles on the American market.
When people return from a European vacation, they seem to focus on what the Europeans have that we don't when the shoe should be on the other foot. Trains are cool, especially really fast ones like the French TGV, but they don't pay for themselves.
Heavily subsidized rail transportation makes a lot more sense on the densely populated East Coast than it does to people in northern Minnesota who love outdoor recreation. Are people really prepared to sacrifice large aspects of their way of life in order to subsidize rail transit?
We hunt, fish, snowmobile and spend weekends at the cabin here. We drive trucks and SUVs that get us around in the snow and haul our toys. If the recession didn't do enough to harm power-recreation sales, imagine the damage from $7-a-gallon gasoline.
We value our way of life in Minnesota. Our state quarter features two people fishing in a boat. It's who we are. We live in a unique place where even middle-class families can afford a small cabin and even the poor who prioritize can afford a boat for fishing and a truck to haul it. These all require gas.
If we decide to subsidize rail transportation with $7-a-gallon gasoline, it would be catastrophic to the way of life we hold dear in Minnesota. Can you picture someone hauling a deer out of the woods on top of a Smart car? How about towing a pontoon with a Ford Fiesta? Sounds ridiculous, but that could be reality if it costs $250 to gas up an F-150.
A day of fishing should be preserved for future generations of all income levels, not just for the privileged few who can afford it. This would be the consequence if the liberals get their way and dramatically raise gasoline taxes to pay for trains. I think our transportation system is wonderful because it empowers individuals to make choices based on needs.
Just because a transportation solution works for Europe does not mean it will work for us in northern Minnesota. The Europeans can ooh and ah over fast trains all they want, but I'll be eating my lunch from the fresh fish I caught at the lake.
Dave Zbaracki is a University of Minnesota Duluth graduate with degrees in political science and history. He served two years as chairman of the UMD College Republicans, was on the state board of the Minnesota College Republicans and was a delegate to the 2002 state Republican convention.