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High-speed rail has no quick answers

By Paul Snyder

It’s probably a good thing, at least from a journalistic standpoint, that I don’t know how to feel about high-speed rail.

I don’t know how often I would use it. I’m sure that depends on how much tickets will cost as opposed to the price of gas whenever this Madison to Milwaukee line begins operating. If the talk out there about one-way tickets costing $20 to $30 does pan out, I imagine I wouldn’t be a regular passenger.

I will give Amtrak or state officials this idea, though. Run a few trains between Milwaukee and Madison on Friday and Saturday nights. Charge college students $10 each way. Years ago when I attended Marquette, we all talked about what a money-maker that would be. Of course, only a few of us actually majored in business — I didn’t.

But I still think it’s a good idea.

The more stories I do about high-speed rail, I find it coming back to the arguments of cost and pitting tracks against roads and bridges. As Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz pointed out at a high-speed rail rally in Madison on Tuesday, our dependence on cars and oil gives us some share in the blame for the mess still being unleashed in the Gulf of Mexico.

Alternatives can help.

But how will the price of those alternatives stack up against what we already know and are used to? It will be interesting to see as more definitive numbers come up.

Ultimately, I don’t think it’s going to be a politician or state agency worker who convinces me high-speed rail is good or bad. It might be a German cousin of mine who visited Madison last summer. He landed in Chicago and expected to be able to cruise the Midwest by train, much like he can do in his own country. He couldn’t, so cousin Paul played chauffeur from Chicago to Madison (and then to Milwaukee for a Brewers game — American experience, right?) and back. He felt really guilty that I had to do all the driving.

“No trains?” he asked.

“Well, not yet,” I responded.

I told him about the impending likelihood that a train would run between Madison and Milwaukee, but that it could still be years off because so many people argue about the costs and where it should run. He said the same arguments took place in Germany too (he also said the same thing about wind turbines, for whatever that’s worth).

Of course, if I go visit him in Munich, I don’t need him to drive me to other major cities.

Maybe the regional connection argument wins, depending on the price of the ticket, of course.

But the $10 rides on Fridays and Saturdays for college students? That idea’s a keeper.

Paul Snyder is a staff writer at The Daily Reporter. If he had majored in business, he’d be backing a $15 ride from Milwaukee to Madison.

2 comments

  1. I like that you have a positive notion about high speed trains Paul.

    Allow me to make a few comments on the subject for you to consider. As I live on a high speed line in the northeast I can clue you in somewhat on what to expect.

    First of all, the preparation required just to prepare the track and get it up graded for trains over 125 miles per hour will likely take longer than your college career doubled. To get trains over 150 you would have to have tilt technology trains, like the Acela. That would take even longer to get up and running than conventional passenger diesel powered trains.

    There is a student fee basis for Amtrak trains that is called Student Advantage. It provides a percentage off regular fares that is worth the cost of the card, unless you already have AAA.
    However, don’t expect you are going to use it on priority trains like high speed Acela’s.
    The cost of riding the Acela can easily double the conventional passenger trains.

    Regardless, once you have the upgraded trackbed in place your conventional trains could possibly do better than 100 and up to 120 mph as the Regional Amtrak trains do in the Northeast. That would be a vast improvement over average freight lines speeds of 79.

  2. The tilt trains won’t take long to get running. The supplier, Talgo of Spain, is opening a maintenance and assembly plant in Milwaukee that will also serve as their base for other orders around the country.

    Also, the track work is beginning now, as the funding is already in place for the expansion of Chicago to Milwaukee service to Madison, hopefully in the future this is expanded again to Minneapolis/St. Paul.

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