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Midwest HSR News; Jerusalem and Virginia Beach LRT

Midwest High-Speed Rail Has Many Backers for Stimulus Funds in Wisconsin, but Controversy Abounds in Minnesota

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle wants to see federal stimulus money used for the Midwest High-Speed Rail program. Meeting in Milwaukee, the Governor suggested that a line would run from Chicago to Minneapolis, through Milwaukee and Madison, with a potential extension to Green Bay. Mr. Doyle seems to know a little something about transportation, eschewing the typical superficial arguments to point out that all forms of transportation are subsidized by the government, so a public investment in rail isn’t somehow inappropriate:

Just as we heavily subsidize our road transportation system, we subsidize heavily our air transportation system. I don’t think people should say rail is somehow not subject to subsidy when the others are.

We’re obviously happy to hear such clear language from a Governor, and we hope to see more such arguments as the push for high-speed rail advances.

But up in Minnesota, on the other end of this potential rail line, there’s a big argument brewing about how about to connect Minneapolis and St. Paul with Chicago. Some suggest that the best alignment would follow the existing Amtrak route, along the Mississippi. This is the corridor that the FRA established several years ago for high-speed service into Minnesota. But others, including the nascent Southeast Minnesota Rail Alliance, would like to see the route go through relatively big Rochester, Minnesota instead, some 30 miles south.

St. Paul Representative Betty McCollum (D) has threatened to oppose the Rochester route, arguing that because the FRA already demonstrated its support for the other route, a Rochester path would make getting federal money more difficult. Her argument makes some sense in the short-term, but it would result in the unfortunate loss of service for one of Minnesota’s largest cities, quite a disappointment considering just how little the planned alignment would have to be altered to provide Rochester service.

Jerusalem LRT to be Completed More Quickly

Jerusalem’s light rail system, whose first phase is currently under construction, will be sped up for a completion later this year, ahead of the planned 2010 opening date. The 14-km system, which faces enormous opposition in the Israeli capital because of the street disruption and slow business its construction has caused, will run southwest-to-northeast through the city, with a stop just outside the Walled City at Jaffa Gate.

New mayor Nir Barkat ran as an opponent of the light rail system, suggesting that “environmentally friendly” buses would be more appropriate for the city and that rail investment was a waste of money. There’s also been a lot of discussion about the “inappropriateness” of Santiago Calatrava’s new Chords Bridge, which looms over the landscape and will allow trains to traverse a valley just beyond the Walled City. The system’s future, which was to include seven more lines, seems to be in doubt, but this initial Red Line will go into operation, as the Mayor has suggested rightfully that it’s simply too late to cancel the project. So he’s going to push ahead with 24-hour construction that will allow the project to be completed as soon as possible to avoid more disruption to life in the city center.

Jerusalem’s light rail is one of the most advanced systems currently under construction, with elevated security measures such as bullet-proof glass and hidden machinery incorporated into the trains built by Alstom. Despite vocal opposition, the light rail line will provide useful and needed alternative mobility for a city currently choked by traffic.

Norfolk’s LRT to Expand to Virginia Beach

The Tide Light Rail system, which is currently under construction along a 7.4-mile alignment in Norfolk, Virginia, is likely to be expanded into nearby Virginia Beach along a 10.6-mile corridor currently used by Norfolk-Southern freight rail operations. The city is under negotiations with the company to purchase the corridor, thereby allowing an easy expansion. It is always easier to develop a transit corridor when the right-of-way already exists, so we should see this project getting going soon, as long as the Tide’s opening goes as expected early next year.

Image above from Jerusalem Light Rail website

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