Despite expenses, high speed rail a good thing

Story by Thom Fountain

I drive to Minneapolis on about a monthly basis. I head to Milwaukee or Madison about once every other month. The problem is my car is breaking down, gas prices are too high, I get tired when I drive, I don’t have time to do homework if I’m gone all weekend, I’m creeped out by the ride board and sometimes I come this close to getting a speeding ticket.

For gosh sakes, Wisconsin. Put in some high speed rail lines.

Luckily for me (and thousands of other commuters and travelers across the state) we’re well on our way. According to the Department of Transportation, a high speed track will be in place between Madison and Milwaukee by 2013. Routes are expected six times a day going 79 to 110 mph. Now that’s progress.

The thing is, there are some people who don’t want these trains to run through Wisconsin.

I won’t lie, it’s expensive upfront. The Madison-Milwaukee route will cost $817 million and the entire Midwest Regional Rail System, which Wisconsin has joined into, could run the collective states up to $60 billion.

But that’s the upfront cost. After the rail lines are in place it will increase tourism in the state and provide jobs in some of the neediest cities, including Milwaukee and Madison. California’s high speed rail plan (which is further along than Wisconsin’s) is expected to bring over 300,000 jobs to the state. Even half of that would help unemployment immensely in our state.

Easy commuting could also increase business relationships between Madison and Chicago or Minneapolis, allowing cheaper, quicker day trips for meetings and collaborations.

With gas prices skyrocketing, Wisconsin needs a new way for its own citizens to travel around the state and spend money. High speed rail would loosen our dependence on oil without putting a damper on commerce.

And let’s not forget the environmental effects. Other rail systems in the United States have produced only one-fifth of the gas emissions per passenger than car travel. In the time of crisis our environment is in, this would be a comparatively cheap alternative to hybrids or electric cars.

Possibly the strongest argument for high speed rail is a simple one: it saves lives. There were 257 deaths on Wisconsin highways in 2008 according to a DOT report. There were less than 10 rail accidents in the entire United States that same year.

Rail would greatly affect drunk driving numbers as well, giving those who’ve had a few drinks at a concert or sporting event an alternate way to get home.

So what can you do to help? With elections coming up, research which Wisconsin politicians support high speed rail in the state and give them your vote. You can also contact government officials on a city and state level to let them know your opinions.

It’s true the costs of rail are high, but I believe the costs to set a rail system in place would not be catastrophic, especially when lives are on the line.

Not to mention, it’d save me a lot of gas money.