Map of Rail Baltica with stations

Learn from Baltic Nations, Get Northern Lights Train on Track

Editor’s note: This article appeared originally on July 29, 2022 in the Duluth News-Tribune.

“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.”

— Gustavo Petro, mayor of Bogotá, Colombia

Before the restoration of their independence from Russia, the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were forced by Soviet central planners to build their railways to Russian-gauge track, which is 4-feet-11.8 inches and too wide for European trains that run on the standard gauge of 4-feet-8.5 inches. After the Baltic countries joined both the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Baltic national leaders realized the need to better transport people, as well as civilian and military freight, to and from the Baltic countries and the rest of Europe. Their political leaders — who work for the growth and well-being of their fellow citizens — created their Rail Baltica plan, which is among dozens of expanding or new railroad lines around the world.

— Gustavo Petro, mayor of Bogotá, Colombia

Currently under construction, Rail Baltica is a standard-gauge-track railway line that will run from Poland, linking it with the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Operating speeds will be 145 mph for passenger trains and 75 mph for freight trains. This will create a beneficial economic and strategic military supply corridor from Warsaw, Poland, to Tallinn, Estonia. This railway line might be extended in mid-2026 north to Helsinki, Finland, via existing ferry links or a future undersea tunnel to cross the Gulf of Finland.

Midwestern citizens may wonder how four independent nations are able to overcome national politics to spend $5.9 billion to build 540 miles of new double-track electric mainline, along with new trains, stations and maintenance depots. A study produced by Ernst & Young estimated the socioeconomic benefits at $16.4 billion, a threefold return on investment. According to the same study, Rail Baltica will save an estimated 400 human lives in 29 years. Also, electrification is motivated in part to reduce carbon emissions, in accordance with the 2015 Paris Climate Accords.

At the same time, some Minnesota politicians are unwilling to spend far less money to build our future Northern Lights Express (NLX). That’s even though NLX would give Midwesterners the same climate, social and economic benefits in Minnesota and Wisconsin as Rail Baltica will give to the people of Poland and the Baltic countries.
Failing to build NLX would allow increasing traffic jams, faster wear and tear of our highway and interstate pavement, and the continued poisonous pollution of vehicle exhaust along the Interstate 35 corridor — while rural communities would continue to fall behind culturally and economically compared with larger cities.

From now on, Midwestern voters must vote out irrational obstructionists and vote in proactive leaders who will fund building the transformational NLX. An essential part of future Midwestern transportation infrastructure, NLX would decrease human illness due to carbon emissions, decrease traffic injuries and deaths, and increase employment opportunities and housing options for workers — while reducing regional inequalities between rural and urban areas.

To learn more, see Amtrak Connects US: A Vision to Grow Rail Service across America.

James Patrick Buchanan of Duluth is a lifelong passenger-train supporter and advocate.

About James Buchanan

After earning my University of Minnesota communication major and journalism minor, I am currently looking for a full-time position to use my skills in writing, photography, and page design. I am also seeking an environment that offers inspiring and new opportunities that challenge and strengthen my skill set, as well as opportunities to help my future company advance efficiently and productively. I was the top student in my Communications and Creativity class. I’m the professional artist to turn to for your creativity needs.