It is most unfortunate that the Star Tribune opinion pages badly misled readers by publishing Aileen Croup’s rant against the Northern Lights Express (NLX) passenger-rail initiative (“How a transportation monster was born and raised,” March 27). Croup’s article, a counterpoint to the responding to the March 23 editorial, “Rail to twin ports is worth exploring,” is based on material misrepresentations of fact and significant omissions.
Croup misstates the history of Amtrak’s early service to Duluth, called the Northstar. When it was discontinued in April 1985, ridership was robust and the service was growing. But Amtrak arbitrarily raised its cost to Minnesota, and the Legislature declined to pay it. Amtrak then withdrew the train.
Croup also misrepresents the performance of the (new) Northstar commuter service between Big Lake and Minneapolis. That service was originally conceived to serve the entire Twin Cities on a route between Hastings and Elk River, passing through both downtowns and both campuses of the University of Minnesota.
The Metropolitan Council undermined that with a truncated Big Lake-to-Minneapolis service that is performing exactly as the council engineered it to do. That is the fault of the Met Council, not the trains.
If the Northstar service is to produce more, it must work harder, with a midday round trip to serve half-day travelers, a stop at Foley Boulevard to intercept many hundreds of daily riders now forced to rely on diesel buses, and an extension to St. Paul with a stop at the University of Minnesota’s Intercampus Busway.
And everyone except myopic federal bureaucrats agrees that it should be extended to St. Cloud.
These false premises underpin Croup’s antipathy to NLX, whose history she also misrepresents.
NLX began with an exploration of a state-of-the-art high-speed service connecting Duluth and the Twin Cities. Early studies showed that to be too costly for the volume of business it would generate. NLX responded appropriately by rescaling its project to a 90-mile-per-hour, four-trip-a-day service using the most modern conventional rail vehicles. That is the only responsible way to study, respond and innovate in Minnesota’s mobility environment.
Another misrepresentation is NLX’s access to the Hinckley casino. Yes, NLX studied bringing the rail service to the casino to better serve passengers, but the study showed that the cost exceeded the value, and the idea was shelved in favor of dedicated shuttles from the Hinckley station. Croup appears to imply that it is bad to study alternatives and discard the inferior ideas for better ones.
Croup fails to inform her readers that all transportation infrastructure is subsidized — waterways, airways, busways, highways and bike trails all depend on state, local and federal funding. Passenger-rail systems do, too. There is nothing sinister, as Croup implies, in elected officials’ exploring and advocating for transportation enhancements that would serve their communities, especially one with the potential to double the carrying capacity of Interstate 35 without taking any private land.
Last, Croup’s crocodile tears for the family farmers whose land she falsely asserts would be taken by NLX overlook the sad fact that these farms are on land wrongfully taken from the Ojibwe 175 years ago.
We understand that Croup doesn’t like NLX. But it is wrong for her to undermine it with tales divorced from reality.
Andrew Selden, of Edina, is president of the Minnesota Association of Railroad Passengers.