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Rail initiative on track

Carleton students continue to support a bill that would restore passenger rail service between Northfield and the Twin Cities.  

On January 26th, state representative David Bly introduced HF 523, a bill that proposes funding of the Minnesota rail project. The bill calls for the allocation of $500,000 to conduct a feasibility study for the creation of an Intercity Rail Project from the Twin Cities to Northfield and Albert Lea, as well as the allocation of $21 million to fund the project in the financial year of 2018.

According to the Minnesota State Legislature, the bill had a first reading on January 26th, and was referred to the Committee on Transportation and Regional Governance Policy.  

The Northfield rail line is part of the statewide rail plan, which proposes using existing freight train lines from Northfield to the Twin Cities to be adapted for passenger rail use.  
The grass-roots organization Central MN Passenger Rail Initiative envisions a service extending South towards Des Moines, with another  service running to Rochester and Winona, connecting with the existing Amtrak service to Chicago.   

Currently the line is listed as a second tier priority in the MN State rail plan, produced by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
On Feb. 9 and 10, Students Organized for the Protection of the Environment (SOPE)  launched  a letter writing campaign, through which students wrote to the Governor and the College President to lobby for the rail line and  bill HF 523. They tabled in Sayles to facilitate the letter writing campaign. SOPE intends to pursue further lobbying efforts to support the project, including writing letters to state legislators on the transportation committee  in support of the statewide rail plan.   

Currently Northfield lacks passenger rail, and the limited transport options to and from the Twin Cities is a source of complaint among college students.        

One student involved in SOPE and an active supporter of the rail initiative, Michael Happ ’17, said the lack of access to public transport is an impediment to accessing a well paying job for Northfield residents.

The lack of public transportation from Northfield to the Twin Cities also impacts Carleton students, the majority of whom lack a car and have to rely on cabs or the Northfield Lines shuttle service to access the Twin Cities.

Michael Happ thinks that a passenger rail would improve the lives of Carleton students.  “A reliable, and hopefully affordable transit option, would allow for cheaper, more reliable service to the twin cities, allowing students to attend events such as rallies or concerts as well as internship and employment opportunities,” Happ said.  

The rail line was supported by President Poskanzer who, in  a 2010  Carletonian article, said at a meeting in support of the project, “We should think wisely and well to connect our community to the rest of the world.”

Northfield City council member Suzie Nackazien, who has written to the CSA urging a resolution supporting new transportation links with the cities,  describes the rail as a way to encourage “smart growth”in Northfield compared to what Happ described as car-dominated “sprawl.”

Eric Tallman ’17, another SOPE member and participant in tabling for the passenger rail, supports the projects for its environmental and economic benefits.  

“Making public transport options more widely available is a really important thing to do,” Tallman said. “It has vast environmental implications as it can drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by taking cars off the road…And I think it can have economic benefits as it would provide a lot of the more low income residents with a transit that would be more affordable.”

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