I wonder what Lori Sturdevant gets out of being a full-time DFL shill?
No, I don’t mean that I think she’s on the DFL’s payroll. That’d be a pretty defamatory thing to write about a journalist, and that’s certainly not my intent.
Although to all intents and purposes Lori Sturdevant is no more a “journalist”, these days, than Jeff Fecke.
Let’s perform a multi-level fisking of today’s editorial. I’ll do the traditional dissection of her column; I’ll also put her various propaganda-friendly code words in bold, so we can see the “subtle” shadings of words that make her column (columns?) (entire body of post-beat-reporter work?) an exercise in DFL propaganda.
Watching the House DFL majority laboriously assemble an attractive state budget last week, while knowing that it’s destined to be dismantled by vetoes, was dispiriting work.
So I did what adroit legislators do during deficit years (which is what this year feels like, no matter how much the GOP pols yammer about a surplus). The savvy ones say, when you can’t spend, borrow. I dug out the House and Senate bonding bills, and found something to make me smile: high-speed rail to Chicago.
Beyond Sturdevant’s reflexive bias, I’m almost starting to wonder if she regards spending itself, rather than programs or “helping” people or the actual work of government, as a virtue in its own right?
Because “smiling” at the mere mention in a bonding bill of a huge, big-ticket boondoggle?
One wonders if Sturdevant would “smile” at a bill that levied a 1% tax on, say, talk radio revenue, converted the proceeds into a huge pile of $20 bills, and lit them into a huge bonfire?
Both bills include $2 million to seriously plan for the day when Minnesotans could get on a train at a restored Union Depot in St. Paul, and disembark 5½ hours later at Union Station in downtown Chicago.
Amtrak runs from St. Paul to Chicago once per day now, and takes eight hours on a good day to do it. Even with service that slow, ridership is rising. The bonding bill proposal, sponsored by Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, and Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, anticipates six round trips per day, at a top speed of 110 miles per hour.
One wonders if a cost/benefit analysis would be any part of that study. Why?
We’ll get to that.
You want faster? (I do. [I'm shocked - shocked, I tell you] It’ll cost more [Ibid]), and mean fewer stops. But it’s possible that St. Paul to Madison to Milwaukee to Chicago eventually could be done in four hours.
You know what’d really be cool? If we built a chair with big rockets on it, that’d get you to Chicago in about forty minutes!
That’s what we have now! It’s called an “airliner”, and it exists, and makes dozens of round trips a day, and, I would guess, is faster and will cost less, in terms of customer fares and public subsidy, than this miracle train that will make the trip for billions of dollars more money and at triple the time.
Imagine the possibilities. A professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison could board a train at 8 a.m., and step off light rail at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in time to teach a noon seminar. A Chicago cycling enthusiast could load his bike on the fast train on Saturday morning, transfer to a southeastern Minnesota circulator in La Crosse or Winona, and be tooling along the Root River trail by midday. A businesswoman in St. Cloud could get on the Northstar (it’ll get there eventually), transfer to Central Corridor light rail, then take the fast train right into the Windy City’s Loop. It’ll take a little more time than today’s drive-fly-drive trip requires, but there’d be ample elbow room for laptop work the whole way.
So not only is Sturdevant sneaking in calls for two more rail projects (an utterly-unneeded “circulator” and the less-stupid Northstar), but she’s assuming that the professor, cyclist and St. Cloud businesswoman market is enough to justify the costs of this immensely-expensive line.
Question for Sturdevant, or anyone who assumes she has a point: if there’s no market for the current, expensive train that will get you to Chicago slower than your car will at virtually the same cost as a forty-minute flight (even after the immense subsidy that underlies your ticket), why is there suddenly a market for something that’ll be vastly more expensive (to the customer and especially the taxpayer), that’ll provide either cost savings nor a decisive change in speed?
Simple fact; the current generation of Amtrak trains can, at least in theory, make the trip at over 80 miles per hour. If there were a market imperative to punch passenger traffic down the mainline to Chicago at a higher priority than the freight traffic that currently uses the lines (as, indeed, was done up until air travel made such scheduling obsolete and cost-ineffective), then it’d be a small matter to make the trip to Chicago a six-hour-ish trip, for virtually no extra money.
But there’s not.
Which doesn’t stop Sturdevant from dreaming them up, in the same make-believe world that seems to drive her entire conscious life:
The Midwest Regional Rail System’s map has the fast train following the existing Amtrak route — go down the Mississippi along lovely Lake Pepin to La Crosse, then hang a left.
The map in my mind’s eye includes a spur track to Rochester. (We’re talking a few passenger trains here, not 34 coal-bearing brutes per day.) If Minnesota wants to juice up the job-creating potential of the collaboration between the University of Minnesota and Mayo, how about connecting the two campuses by rail?
Shuttling professors and college kids - slowly and at immense expense, compared to cars – should be a major fiscal priority for this state?
Read the rest of the piece, if you want to see as shameless an endorsement of cash-whoring pettifoggery as I’ve ever seen.
Sturdevant ends the piece by recognizing – sort of – the opposition:
Of course, only one Republican’s attitude really counts. Gov. Tim Pawlenty hasn’t been a promoter of high-speed rail, but neither has he signaled opposition…[R]emember what Pawlenty said in his 2003 State of the State speech? “Behind me is a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. When he took office, he set two main goals. First, preserve the Union. And second, build the transcontinental railroad. … He had a vision and agenda for building the future beyond the immediate crisis. … We also need to get about the business of rebuilding Minnesota’s future.”
If the governor and his Republican allies won’t go along with the kind of building that a generous state budget affords, the least they can do is follow the example of their party’s founding father and start building a better railroad.
Every time I read one of Sturdevant’s flights of fancy, I wonder if she’s really that dumb, or if she just thinks her audience is?
In Lincoln’s day, the transcontinental railroad was a technological marvel, a social imperative and political masterwork.
Today, a “high-speed” train to Chicago is a technological throwback, an economic albatross, an ideological reflex and a serving of political pork.
Slow, expensive pork.