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Local View: Learn from Baltic nations, get NLX train on track

From the column: "Not building NLX would allow increasing traffic jams, faster wear and tear of our highway and interstate pavement, and the continued poisonous pollution of vehicle exhaust along the Interstate 35 corridor."

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Dave Granlund/Cagle Cartoons
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"A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It's where the rich use public transportation."

— Gustavo Petro, mayor of Bogotá, Colombia

Before the restoration of their independence from Russia, the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were forced by Soviet central planners to build their railways to Russian-gauge track, which is 4-feet-11.8 inches and too wide for European trains that run on the standard gauge of 4-feet-8.5 inches. After the Baltic countries joined both the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Baltic national leaders realized the need to better transport people, as well as civilian and military freight, to and from the Baltic countries and the rest of Europe. Their political leaders — who work for the growth and well-being of their fellow citizens — created their Rail Baltica plan, which is among dozens of expanding or new railroad lines around the world.

Currently under construction, Rail Baltica is a standard-gauge-track railway line that will run from Poland, linking it with all three of the above-mentioned Baltic countries. Operating speeds will be 145 mph for passenger trains and 75 mph for freight trains. This will create a beneficial economic and strategic military supply corridor from Warsaw, Poland, to Tallinn, Estonia. This railway line might be extended in mid-2026 north to Helsinki, Finland, via existing ferry links or a future undersea tunnel to cross the Gulf of Finland.

From the column: "The new regulations will drive up the cost to ship goods and slow the time it takes to get products to market — when Americans are reeling from the worst inflation in 40 years."

Midwestern citizens may wonder how four independent nations are able to overcome national politics to spend $5.9 billion to build 540 miles of new double-track electric mainline, along with new trains, stations, and maintenance depots. A study produced by Ernst & Young estimated the socioeconomic benefits at $16.4 billion, a threefold return on investment. According to the same study, Rail Baltica will save an estimated 400 human lives in 29 years. Also, electrification is motivated in part to reduce carbon emissions, in accordance with the 2015 Paris Climate Accords.

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At the same time, some Minnesota politicians are unwilling to spend far less money to build our future Northern Lights Express. That’s even though NLX would give Midwesterners the same climate, social, and economic benefits in Minnesota and Wisconsin as Rail Baltica will give to the people of Poland and the Baltic countries.

Not building NLX would allow increasing traffic jams, faster wear and tear of our highway and interstate pavement, and the continued poisonous pollution of vehicle exhaust along the Interstate 35 corridor — while rural communities would continue to fall behind culturally and economically compared to larger cities.

From now on, Midwestern voters must vote out irrational obstructionists and vote in proactive leaders who will fund building the transformational NLX. An essential part of future Midwestern transportation infrastructure, NLX would decrease human illness due to carbon emissions, decrease traffic injuries and deaths, and increase employment opportunities and housing options for workers — while reducing regional inequalities between rural and urban areas.

James Patrick Buchanan of Duluth is a lifelong passenger-train supporter and advocate. To learn more, he suggests reading, “Amtrak Connects US: A Vision to Grow Rail Service across America.”

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James Patrick Buchanan

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