Saturday, April 4, 2009

Come on, ride the train...Please?!

We are not Europe. Culturally, economically, nor physically. So why do the liberals in this country insist that we follow European models? I know I talked about this before, but as long as Governor Doyle won't let it die, neither will I.

All parties involved seem to insist that a high speed rail line from Minneapolis to Chicago via Madison and Milwaukee is the wave of the future. They tout the 'green' aspects of trains, how the trains will reduce traffic, etc. etc. What they fail to mention is the fact that nobody wants to ride them, thereby significantly reducing the 'green' effect of the trains.

There are many reasons why this high speed rail idea is doomed to failure. Most are design flaws, but the biggest one is cultural. We as Americans love our cars. It's a degree of personal freedom that is ingrained into what we are. Also, in this age of political correctness, it is one of the few places we can truly be ourselves. Why would we give up driving ourselves just to save a few minutes?

Which brings me to the first design flaw. Looking at just the section between Milwaukee and Madison, the plan calls for stops in Brookfield, Oconomowoc, and Watertown. With stops that close together the train has only one section between Madison and Watertown where it will get up to top speed. Because of this, the estimated travel time from Milwaukee to Madison is one hour and ten minutes. The terminals will be at the Amtrak station in Milwaukee and at Dane County Regional Airport in Madison. The estimated travel time by car (estimated by Google maps) is one hour and seventeen minutes. That's right folks. The government wants to spend 519 million dollars to save travellers seven minutes. Assuming, of course, that is if you live nearby the Amtrak station and want to go to the Madison airport.

The next big hurdle that they will have to overcome is ridership. Will they be able to get enough people riding it to cover operating costs? Using stats from 2008 on the Hiawatha Amtrak line as an example, would 2000 people a day be enough to support this line? Is 2000 people a day a realistic number for this segment of the line? Considering the fact that the taxpayers are already subsidising Amtrak, my response to both questions is no.

The selection of the sites for the depots is another problem. The Milwaukee terminal is logical. It provides an easy transition between the Hiawatha line and the proposed Milwaukee-Madison-Minneapolis line. What I don't understand is the idea to place a terminal at the Madison airport. Traux Field is miles from downtown Madison. Miles away from people and the places people want to go. Why would anyone ride this train to Madison if they would need to take a cab to get anywhere? As for the other stations I cannot speak for the Watertown or Oconomowoc stations, but I do know where the proposed Brookfield station will be. It is in a residential area approximately 2 1/2 miles from the main business district. There will need to be major improvements to the area to promote ridership. Considering how much of a fuss Brookfield has had in the past with seemingly innocent economic development, this station may not even be built. Oconomowoc's depot is on the country's list of historical sites. The plan is to expand the depot. I can't see that being easy or inexpensive.

Is there really a need for this line? Maybe. I can see the prospects for it. Easy connections for folks in the Milwaukee and Madison areas to and from each other and to and from Chicago. However, this plan just has too many holes. We can do better.

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