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Letter to the editor: Rail deserves a second look

To the editor:

We write as two Republican leaders from a similar-sized state and suggest Wisconsin GOP leaders might want to take another look at intercity rail.

Wisconsin was one of the lead states in receiving stimulus monies for what the Obama administration calls high-speed rail. Actually what it is could more accurately be described as better tracks, better signals, new rail cars and better service for those who want or need to use the existing rail service — a once in a lifetime opportunity to receive federal dollars with no state match required for public works improvements.

As former Republican elected officials from Washington state, we both helped lead the effort to improve all of our state’s transportation system incrementally. This included highways, bridges, ferry boats, airports and rail.

The improvements to our rail system have surprised us the most. The trains are often full, and more have to be added on holidays. Fare box recovery is nearly 70 percent. Ridership is up dramatically, from 100,000 to 800,000 passengers per year.

We recruited Talgo Inc. It was our feeling that Talgo’s combined American-Spanish technology was the best in the world. These are modern, clean, smooth-riding trains. Riders give Talgo very high marks.

Train cars were constructed by our aerospace machinists here in Seattle, just as your autoworkers can do in Milwaukee. They knew they were building the finest rail cars in the world. And that has proved to be true.

Transportation planners have learned you can build freeways and airports until you are blue in the face. But now, many countries, regions, other states and corridors are turning back to trains. And they don’t have to be high-speed systems running at 200-plus mph. Reliability, frequency and trains that go faster than the cars on the freeway are what the public wants.

Trains move people in a cost-efficient manner, and drivers have a choice of rail versus taking the freeway.

Because of improvements, our rail crossings are safer and freight trains are moving faster.

Wisconsin’s political leadership might want to take another look at rail.

Ralph Munro
secretary of state, 1980 to 2001,
Washington state

Bruce Agnew
Cascade Institute

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