- Global Perspective
-Europe’s Rail System
Envision stepping on a train from home, and arriving safely Two-Hundred and Twenty miles away, anywhere you please. Traveling at 220 Miles-Per-Hour, this is the distance we can go in a short hour. The AGV Italo, capable of reaching a top-speed of approximately 330 MPH is the future of train development here in the United States.
The European train systems we should emulate are the veins of travel between city centers, which creates the incentive to conserve vehicle use. Trains are seen as more convenient, due to their speed and affordability. The European system was invested in more for possibly intricate reasons; however, the reduction of carbon emissions is first priority in Europe.
The Northstar Commuter Rail, comparatively; is a 40 mile route that takes roughly 49 minutes to travel. This is merely a start for the train travel we can develop here in the United States.
In Europe, rails crisscross the geography, tunneling through mountains, and over water bodies. The system connects economies across borders, and allows for high speed passenger travel at low costs.
The rail system is extensive and highly useful for citizens across Europe and other Euro-Nordic countries. The priority placed on this mode of travel leads to decreased car traffic, and a shift towards further environmentally friendly travel choices.
- Back on American Soil
–United States; (Note- the United States land mass is nearly 3 times that of Europe)
Aside from speed and convenience, why do we need to make the expansion of train routes a priority? There are an abundance of reasons, but we are going to centralize our focus on a move toward environmental sustainability and economic stability.
Train travel is the most environmentally and economically effective form of petroleum travel. The CO emissions of a train are approximately twice as efficient per passenger as travel by cars.
The United States has committed to reduce emissions by 26-28% of that produced in 2005, by 2030; making it a priority to spend budgets on things that reduce emissions.
“A report from the American Public Transit Association (APTA) presents evidence that each person riding light-rail transit vs. driving an automobile for one year reduces … and carbon monoxide emissions by 62.5 pounds”
Trains are outright the most environmentally and economically effective form of petroleum fueled travel.
So, what makes them unworthy of any sort of short-term investment; when we have a long term vision?
- The Extension of the Northstar Commuter Rail to St. Cloud
St. Cloud is currently petitioning for an extension of the Northstar Commuter train, which was previously in the works. The funding was slashed in half, turning the planned route of 82 miles (St. Cloud to Minneapolis) into 40 (Only reaching Big Lake).
In Minneapolis the light rail systems have increased sales for many local businesses, like Surly brewing company, and others along the tracks. At various stops the business booms due to a new flow of pedestrians and commuters; most of which are enabled by a new cheap form of green transportation.
Those benefited by cheaper transportation are students, or any citizens without a reliable vehicle.
The implement of this sort of transportation allows for a more equal society; those without cars are no longer excluded from certain opportunities. This creates perhaps a more competitive job market, but this is certainly better than an exclusive one.
“79 percent of respondents support government funding to extend rail service to St. Cloud”
The majority of citizens voting in support to the rail extension acts as an outcry from the general public. The majority could benefit from this development, and perhaps they see it as an escape from a locked economy.
- Okay, Let’s Get Down to Business
“The lack of transit means the lack of access to jobs, education, medical and other important services.” This is detrimental to a society’s equal opportunity. In a sense the isolation of the disadvantaged doesn’t allow for them to escape the impoverished area they inhabit. This perpetuates into a locked class system, disabling people making something from nothing; which happens to be the American dream.
In 2013 the percentage of people whose income was below the poverty line in Minnesota was 7.9%, while St. Cloud’s percentage was almost double the states at 13.1%. The disparity is clear, we see a society with a lack of job opportunities.
The commuter rail would have a very positive impact on the economy also. It would connect the twin cities with St. Cloud creating a more unified state and economy.
With the rail system expanding an extra 40 miles from Big Lake to St. Cloud would create hundreds of new jobs; for example- the workers and companies both building, and sustaining it. The commute rail provides a form of cheap transportation to the twin cities for many college students and citizens of the St. Cloud area.
Transportation between the two cities would boost both economies from the standpoint of it would bring more people to St. Cloud which would increase business and sales of merchandise leading to a boost in the local economy. In return there will be a boost in the twin cities economy by bringing work opportunities, sporting events, concerts, and business opportunities more accessible to people in St. Cloud who do not own cars and vice-versa.
Economic improvement was shown in the twin cities when the light rail connects downtown Minneapolis to St. Paul. The Cedar Riverside neighborhood has long been home to the immigrant population and due to the light rail in St. Paul. Afro Deli has gone up in sales by 10% and a local pub called The Republic has gone up 18%.
These increases wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the construction of the light rail.
“We know the Green Line is helping,” Said Republic owner Matty O’Reilly. “We do like the idea that people from St. Paul are riding over more frequently (and safely home) to drink good beer and eat.”
The businesses aren’t the only thing expanding since the light rail was added to the downtown twin cities area; the Episcopal Homes of Minnesota recently went under a $45 million expansion of its Fairview Ave senior housing facility. This new addition would hire over one hundred workers and would include 168 new units.
“Demand for our location has been going up over the last three or four years, and the most common theme we hear is it’s because of the light rail,” said Marvin Plakut, the organization’s chief executive. “It’s brought a lot of energy to the urban core again.”
A rail being built in cities have had positive impacts on the real estate value of surrounding businesses and houses also.”One study found that property values in Portland, Ore., increased by $75 for every 100 feet closer a home is to a light-rail station, and the average home price in New York declined by about $2,300 for every 100 feet farther from the station”
Many may argue that the millions of dollars it takes to expand the rail to St. Cloud will not make it worth it, but after the initial cost of making the rail the economies will increase significantly enough due to the vast transportation increase from college students to workers or civilians that it would be easy to recover all of that money in a few short years.
- Think Forward
This change would be an effective way to unify the state and create state wide diversity. With this connection between St. Cloud and the twin cities it would expand the job horizon for many people allowing them to have a job in the twin cities area while still living in St. Cloud or the other way around.
It would create a more competitive work environment making employees in return work harder for a position or to hold their job making businesses more profitable and successful. With the commuter rail making it to St. Cloud there will be more diversity in culture background between communities; and all the while, a much greater unity for the state as a whole.
Additionally, we as a society need to make it an imperative to forge a path to sustainability. This is simply a baby step towards an ultimate goal.
The use of trains in place of cars is shown to have progressive results in both the environment and economy; so let’s make it a priority. With cumulative decisions like this, we can improve the physical and economic environments we live in, and the environment we hand down to our children.
- Is it worth it?
Even though it may cost millions to originally build, the Northstar Commuter Rail would dually create jobs, and provide a way for citizens who do not have a car a mode of transportation. It’s twice as efficient as driving a car per person and is much more economically and environmentally friendly. The efficiency of railroads decreases carbon emissions by sufficient levels to justify the development of an intricate system; like that of Europe. We as a state and country need to find it in ourselves to put the impending issues of what sustains us. First; As a population, we should move towards community based equal resources. They also increase the property value of surrounding buildings and bring more customers to local businesses helping the local economy grow. With the light rail coming to St. Cloud it also brings more people and customers to the twin cities improving their economy as well. It creates more in state diversity and increases the job horizon for many working class people who can’t move their families to a new city or have no way of transportation to St. Cloud or twin cities. The American dream, after all- is the equal opportunity, and chance for an individual to propel themselves toward success. In order to provide basic resources not only for our generation, but the next- we must shift toward sustainable solutions. We can make these resources available equally to all demographics and urban centers, we can make this statement ring true.
By, Caleb Mikenas and Luke Zelenak