Railroading Frustration


Old railcar as seen from the Empire Builder.

Tomorrow my 23 year old daughter is moving from the Twin Cities to Chicago to start a life away from home. She was going to fly and I convinced her that by taking the train she could:

  •  Save money (fare was cheaper than airfare).
  • Check two big bags for free.
  • Experience more of a transition than a 45 minute flight will offer.
  • Help to reduce her carbon footprint.

To be fair, she wasn’t as excited about the 4th point of savings. It seems kids of all generations stray from their parents choices to make their own – for better or worse.

I’m traveling early in the morning myself, but not as early as her departure time so I plan to take her to the station. To get a feeling for whether the train will be on time or not I looked at today’s arrival schedule. The Empire Builder from Seattle is running three hours late today. In an attempt to learn why I looked at local news sources and voila, I found it.

Minnesota Public Radio is running a story of how the rail line between here and Seattle is becoming choked with oil trains carrying frack sand oil out of North Dakota to parts unknown. The added freight traffic on rails not ready for that much traffic are squeezing out Amtrak sometime with delays of up to 13 hours.

One could argue it’s just an inconvenience but probably feels less so to passengers coming east.

Yesterday there was a Salon.com piece about how fracking is using up billions of gallons of water in the places that can most ill afford to give it up. The potentially historic drought out west is proving to be a bit more than an inconvenience. Many cities may soon see inhabitants turning on the faucet to find nothing coming out.

One (who, I don’t know) could argue this too is an inconvenience but as said yesterday on Twitter, we can live without oil but not without water to drink.

There is the long standing argument about how jobs will trump all, but if I can’t get water to drink from my local well or water utility, the importance of oil industry jobs will pale quickly.

A word about jobs and about what leaving our cars at home will mean to our local economies. Let’s say your gasoline budget is $150/month. That’s $150 that you are spending, very little of it will stay in your community thus helping you and your neighbors. What if you reduce driving by 2/3 – easy to do, even in the cold for most? This is $100/month or $1,200/year that you can now spend at local establishments. Jobs for you and your friends, not nameless folks in the Middle East, North Dakota, Russia, Norway, or other parts unknown.

On a related note, the StarTribune ran an article about discussions related to the Vikings Stadium and the adjacent 1,600-car parking garage that will be built adjacent to it. The discussion is revolving around what will be build on top rather than whether or not we need 1,600 more parking spaces downtown Minneapolis.

How does this relate? Think about all of this:

  •  Since 2005 we are driving few miles every year.
  • Gen Yers – the largest demographic – are buying cars at a rate 1/3 less than Xers or Boomers
  • The need for oil based on projections unrelated to facts above is resulting in the loss of precious drinking water. Forget that it damages underground water supplies as well.
  • The same need for oil is clogging one of our few remaining efficient transcontinental travel systems that is relatively friendly to our pocket books and our environment.

Am I the only one frustrated by this? I sincerely hope not.


Reposted from minneapolize.com

Tony Desnick

About Tony Desnick

Tony Desnick is an architect, urban designer, and bicycle activist. He has worked in the bike share industry since 2013. He has ridden a bike for the last 56 years and commutes year 'round by bike today. He serves several local and int'l non-profit boards of directors. In May 2016, he presented a TEDx talk about how bicycles can change us and our communities. It can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTT7i3SKpMQ

5 thoughts on “Railroading Frustration

  1. Stacy

    “What if you reduce driving by 2/3 – easy to do, even in the cold for most?”

    Why do you think it would be easy for “most” people to reduce their driving by 2/3?

    1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

      I agree that driving could be reduced with combining trips, carpooling and transit… but I would like to see some sort of calculation for 2/3 reduction.

    2. Monte Castleman

      That’s what I want to know too. For most people it’s not fun spending a 45 minutes driving to work, or 15 minutes fetching groceries or taking the kids to soccer practice. If it were “easy” not to they wouldn’t do it. Not like I’d spend my money locally anyway, I’d just buy more junk on eBay or Amazon.

  2. Allen

    Empire Builder has always had serious problems. It’s an insanely long route and Amtrak lacks the capital to have equipment sitting around just in case something goes wrong. The added traffic doesn’t improve the situation but it’s far from the only thing going on.

    1. Nathanael

      MinnDOT has proposed running a separate train from St. Paul to Chicago which would START at St. Paul, so that it would not get all these delays coming east from Seattle.

      The study is supposed to come out this year. It should be pretty cheap to operate. (No new stations, for one thing.) Call your state legislators and tell them you want to fund the standalone train from Minneapolis-St.Paul to Chicago.

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