Carleton students and faculty are collaborating with local representative Suzie Nakasian and state representative David Bly to create a passenger rail service to the Twin Cities area, through the Grass Roots Transit Initiative.
The rail line would be placed on the existing freight tracks.
Thursday evening, Bly and Nakasian held a community meeting on the potential for a rail line in Northfield.
Bly said, “The benefit is that a rail line creates greater equity for not just students but people in the community to move about, to access services and to get employment without the need for a car.”
The ability for students to use public transportation would make it much easier to access resources, attend events and gain employment throughout the Southern Minnesota region.
The prospect of the project has elicited some excitement from the student community.
Many students believe their lives would be made easier due to the advantages posed by the new line.
Furthermore, environmental groups on campus, such as SOPE, have advocated for the proposal’s environmental benefits through reduced CO2 emissions and congestion on the interstate.
President Steve Poskanzer, who was at yesterday’s meeting, is a strong supporter for the project.
At the 2010 meeting, Poskanzer argued that for the long-term development of Northfield, such a project was imperative as “economic development in American history follows the rail.”
However, a major obstacle to the project is a legislative censor dating from 2002. This moratorium prevents any discussion of the project.
However, members of the Northfield and Carleton communities believe it is possible to pursue a rail based project by classifying the initiative as a regional-intercity rail project, which is a part of the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s long term plans for the region.
By not classifying the project as a commuter project, community members believe the project doesn’t violate the ban, and can be pursued by the State.
Nakazian said that there is a good shot for such a project because of the presence of support within the community, and an existing railroad-right-of-way.
The project is listed as a second-tier project by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and as such it is to be completed by 2030.
Supporters of the project argue that by organizing a strong community organization, then there would be sufficient impetus for the proposal and the project could be completed sooner. Nakazian said, “It is known that rail spurs growth, and we need it.”
The project began in 2008 with three Carleton students, Blake Hansen, Julia Reid and Sarah Prather who explored the benefits of transit through their study of poverty in the community.
As a result of their research, they saw that public transportation would benefit both the Northfield and Carleton communities.
They believed that public transit line would provide economic development by attracting employers and visitors to Northfield. They held a 2010 meeting to discuss the project. Jonathan Ahn ’14, who was present for the initial meeting, continues to volunteer for the project.
From there, the project has gained community support.