Human communication

Learn from the Baltic nations, get the Northern Lights train on the right track

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

“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. This is where the wealthy use public transport.

— Gustavo Petro, Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia

Prior to 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 on Russian gauge tracks, which measure 4 feet 11.8 inches and are too wide for European trains. run on the standard gauge of 4 feet 8.5 inches. After the Baltic countries joined 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 cargo, 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 – have created their Rail Baltica plan, which is one of dozens of expanding or new railway lines around the world.

— Gustavo Petro, Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia

Currently under construction, Rail Baltica is a standard gauge rail line that will depart from Poland and connect it to 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 could be extended in mid-2026 north to Helsinki, Finland via existing ferry connections or a future undersea tunnel to cross the Gulf of Finland.

Citizens of the Midwest 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 power mainlines, as well as new trains, stations and maintenance depots. . A study by Ernst & Young estimated the socio-economic benefits at $16.4 billion, a triple return on investment. According to the same study, Rail Baltica will save around 400 human lives in 29 years. Additionally, electrification is driven in part to reduce carbon emissions, in line with the 2015 Paris climate accords.

At the same time, some Minnesota politicians are unwilling to spend much less money to build our future Northern Lights Express (NLX). That’s even though NLX would give people in the Midwest the same climate, social and economic benefits in Minnesota and Wisconsin that Rail Baltica would give people in Poland and the Baltics.
Not building NLX would result in increased traffic congestion, faster wear and tear on our interstate highway and roadway, and continued toxic pollution from vehicle exhaust along the Interstate 35 corridor – while that rural communities would continue to lag culturally and economically behind large cities.

From now on, Midwestern voters must vote against irrational filibusters and vote for proactive leaders who will fund the building of the transformational NLX. A vital part of future Midwest transportation infrastructure, NLX would reduce human illness from carbon emissions, reduce traffic accidents and fatalities, and increase employment opportunities and housing options for workers – all while reducing regional inequalities between rural and urban areas.

To find out more, see Amtrak Connects Us: A Vision to Expand Rail Service Across America.

James Patrick Buchanan of Duluth has been a lifelong supporter and advocate of passenger trains.