A blog to keep current on MPIRG'S fight for social and environmental justice.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Students Show Support Throughout Corridor for Northern Lights Express High Speed Rail

December 8, 2012

Brian Downing, Co-Chair, UMD MPIRG | 218-390-3096, downi065@d.umn.edu                   
Dakotah Johnson, Organizing Director, MPIRG | 715-379-2541, dakotah@mpirg.org

Students Show Support Throughout Corridor for Northern Lights Express High Speed Rail

Work concerning the Northern Lights Express, or NLX, high speed rail project may have seemed quiet in recent months, but behind the scenes the project has been moving full steam ahead. In an effort to re-engage the public in conversation on the project, students with the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) held a series of press conferences on Saturday at many of the proposed stops along the future high speed rail corridor.

The NLX rail service will provide service between Minneapolis and Duluth taking about 2 ¼ hours one way while reaching top speeds of 110 mph.  Estimates propose that the rail line will create approximately $2 billion in development along the corridor and create over 10,000 jobs. The project has already received funding on federal, state and local levels to launch the engineering phase, and the environmental review has just been completed. MPIRG and the NLX Alliance Board are now taking steps to raise public awareness about this exciting project and to let Minnesotans know that high speed rail is still a reality.

Beginning at the Duluth Depot in the morning, stops included Hinckley, the newly reopened St. Paul Union Depot, and the future site of a multimodal transit stop in Coon Rapids. MPIRG students were joined by Representative-elect Rick Nolan; Pine County Commissioner Doug Carlson; John Ongaro, the Governor's Appointee on the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission; Representative Diane Gibbs of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and NLX Alliance Board Member; Former Congressman Jim Oberstar, and State Representative Frank Hornstein along the way.

In a recent public opinion poll of Minnesota college students, MPIRG found that students are increasingly in support of sustainable energy sources to fuel Minnesota. “Young people are at the forefront of this transit movement, with a new vision for the future of Minnesota: a vibrant economy, opportunities for all our citizens, an emphasis on sustainability and environmental responsibility – and transit options that reflect all these values,” noted Emma Wright, MPIRG Board Chair and another contributor to the press conference. “In the wake of an election where young people turned out to vote in record numbers, and were key in defeating two harmful amendments, the young people of Minnesota are energized and eager to be a part of a larger conversation about how to connect our communities in new ways, and how to lay the infrastructure for the future of transit.”

“With years of struggling to maintain fresh, young, job-pursuing graduates in Duluth, and an increasingly congested Twin Cities Metro area, the Northern Lights Express offers the possibility of a great connection to reduce some of the headaches in those areas,” said Jason Reid, a student in the UMD Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. “The Northern Lights Express is the next step in the rebirth of Minnesota mass transit. With the success of the Hiawatha Light Rail and the Central Corridor Line, both prove that there has been a shift in the transportation culture of Minnesotans.”

The promise of new transit options is not lost on MPIRG member and UMD senior Eric Meyer either. “I have two older brothers that live in the Cities, and even though it’s only a two and a half hour drive, I don’t get to see them very often.  If this train had been built four years ago, I could have gone down and seen them almost every weekend.  On the train, I could read my textbooks, write papers, or you know... catch up on sleep.” This difference in productive time versus “windshield time” is just one of many positive reasons for the NLX, particularly as the national conversation on global warming heats up. “Rail provides a much more efficient means of transportation than cars or airplanes,” said Logan Bailey, another MPIRG member, “and the more cars we can have off of the roads, the better for our environment."

The Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) is a grassroots, non-partisan, nonprofit, student-directed organization that empowers and trains students and engages the community to take collective action in the public interest throughout the state of Minnesota.

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