Running for the train
There are thousands of Grandma's Marathon participants saying goodbye to Duluth and heading home to the Twin Cities and beyond today. If they're lucky, there's a massage waiting for them at the other end. "Your first marathon, you're pretty stiff...
There are thousands of Grandma's Marathon participants saying goodbye to Duluth and heading home to the Twin Cities and beyond today.
If they're lucky, there's a massage waiting for them at the other end.
"Your first marathon, you're pretty stiff," multiple marathoner Tony Russeth of suburban Lakeville said last week of the inevitably uncomfortable drive home.
How about aboard a train?
"I would ride it. You'd be able to walk around," he said. "There could be special deals for runners."
Hey, don't forget the party car.
Count the Grandma's reconnaissance crowd as a few thousand more reasons why the proposed Duluth-to-Minneapolis passenger rail line, a.k.a. the Northern Lights Express, makes sense for all of Minnesota. More than resuming the old Amtrak service that ended in the 1980s, the line, using existing freight tracks, would run four to six trains daily at 110 mph. That's fast enough to make the trip in two hours, which motorists, afflicted with runners' cramps or not, can't match.
It's an enhancement of an earlier plan to run 79 mph trains -- decidedly cheaper, at about $100 million (excluding station construction) versus nearly $400 million for the 110 mph trains. But the line's feasibility study says the faster trains would start to pay off faster and become self-sufficient in operating revenue about five years after opening.
After a won-some, lost-some session in the Minnesota Legislature, the project got a major potential boost two weeks ago when the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill designating $14 billion to Amtrak to upgrade and expand passenger rail nationwide. It also sets aside $850 million for grants to finance new high-speed rail projects across the nation -- the Duluth-to-Minneapolis line mentioned specifically by the bill's sponsor, House Transportation Chairman Jim Oberstar of Minnesota. Going into last week, the bill faced a less certain outcome in the Senate, where Minnesota Sens. Norm Coleman, a Republican, and Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, both support the train. President Bush has said he would veto the Amtrak funding package, but Oberstar's confident of an override.
"It's going to become law even if the president is not on board," he said.
However it plays out in Washington, rail is gaining steam throughout the country. In Minnesota, it's buoyed by the Hiawatha and Central Corridor light rail projects and the Northstar commuter rail line to Big Lake. And for anyone leery of the vestiges of your father's Amtrak, Oberstar's bill could usher in a new paradigm by allowing private industry to operate some intercity lines -- including Duluth's.
"For all the critics who say 'if rail is such a good thing, why doesn't private industry get into it?' now they can and will," said Ken Buehler of the Minneapolis-Duluth/Superior Passenger Rail Alliance, the coalition of county, municipal and tribal governments along the route backing the train.
That's the political update. For the more practical concerns -- like the idea of a high-speed train beating a car to the Twin Cites, with passengers surfing the 'Net, napping, or partying, ask the returning marathoners.
After their massages.