In Response: Light rail idea still worth pursuit for Duluth

I was pleased to read the Sept. 28 commentary in the News Tribune, "Consider light rail, but improve bus service in Duluth." It highlighted many of the objections to the light rail loop plan I proposed for Duluth during my run for City Council. T...

Richard Williams

I was pleased to read the Sept. 28 commentary in the News Tribune, " Consider light rail, but improve bus service in Duluth ." It highlighted many of the objections to the light rail loop plan I proposed for Duluth during my run for City Council. The run ended when I didn't advance through the primary, but my proposal lives on.

Being a fifth-year senior at the University of Minnesota, the writer of the commentary, Eric Ecklund, undoubtedly has spent many hours studying his passion for public transportation, much of which seems to include the rail systems in the Twin Cities.

I believe the route system of the Duluth Transit Authority buses is as inclusive as it can be, and the service is as excellent as possible given it is a city bus system. DTA management has done a very good job, and DTA General Manager Dennis Jensen will be hard to replace when he retires.

At what has evolved to become Lake Superior College, I was an electrical technology and electronics instructor for 19 years. I worked on and acquired a bachelors of science degree in vocational education and a masters of education degree with a specialty in electronics. Prior to teaching, I worked in the taconite industry with direct-current, motor-driven equipment similar to what is used in light-rail equipment. I have been a troubleshooter seeking solutions most of my working years.

The light rail system I proposed for Duluth would have some similarities with those operating in the Twin Cities. Like the Blue Line and the Green Line down there, ours would be all electric. Those lines are express trains with limited numbers of stops at high-density destinations like Target Center, Fort Snelling, Mall of America, and the airport. The vehicles would be similar, too, from the same manufacturers. The ease of getting on and off would be identical. The payment methods would be the same.


The major differences would be obvious. All of the rail systems in the Twin Cities are at grade level. They require crossarms with warning lights where they intersect with street traffic. My light rail loop proposal would not intersect with street traffic. Most of the route would be elevated with no traffic lights, no surface-condition delays, no delays for traffic accidents, no delays for road construction, and no delays for events like the fireworks on the Fourth of July, as examples.

Since this proposed system would be totally separate from traffic situations, it could be completely automated in the future. Because Twin Cities rail systems are at grade level and represent a large footprint, they take up a tremendous amount of road space. My system would be elevated on pedestals with a very small footprint.

Consider Duluth's 21st Avenue East. The center lane is only used for turning, and much of it is not used for driving. The non-driving spaces could be locations for pedestals. Navigating across a parking lot on pedestals would not interfere with functionality. The pedestal system would even out the differences in the terrain so you could avoid costly excavation.

There are many unused corridors, right-of-ways, and green spaces that could be navigated using pedestals and also could be shared as recreational routes for biking or hiking. I believe the percent grade throughout the proposed route would not exceed the capabilities of the available vehicles.

In the Twin Cities, the Red Line is an express bus from the Mall of America to Apple Valley, Minn. There could be similar setups here in the Twin Ports to service additional areas, such as remote park-and-ride lots.

I will be submitting a business plan outline for approval to be used as my guideline for a business plan feasibility study for the light rail loop. If successful, an infrastructure feasibility study would follow. I would be enrolled in the University of Minnesota Duluth School of Science and Engineering in independent study.

I invite Eric Ecklund to email me and meet with me. I would be grateful to have him in my network, especially when I do the infrastructure feasibility study, which will be in the very near future.

Richard Williams of Duluth was a candidate for Duluth City Council who didn't advance through the September primary.

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