Have We Forgotten About Trains?

David Johnson
National Association of Railroad Passengers

Some people say that Americans have forgotten about trains for long distance travel. However in February of 2006, a Harris poll found that, the modes of transportation which the largest number of adults would like to see have an increasing share of passenger transportation are: commuter trains (44%), long-distance trains (35%), local bus service (23%), and airlines (23%). The comparable percentage for long-distance travel by car was just 10% and long-distance bus service was only 6%.

With gas prices continuing to rise, many Americans do not understand why there are more frequent, fast, and comfortable trains in most other developed countries and why the U.S. is so far behind. Unfortunately, the answer lies within the federal bureaucracy. Despite its clear environmental advantages, passenger rail has not received proper investment in the United States. Unlike the taxpayers that fund it, the federal government has forgotten about trains.

Federal resources have focused primarily on highway and aviation projects. Amtrak, America’s passenger rail system, has received less funding cumulatively in 35 years ($30 billion) than the Federal Highway Administration received in 2006 alone ($39 billion). Even the recent National Strategy to Reduce Congestion on America’s Transportation Network white paper issued by the Department of Transportation does not contain a single reference to passenger or freight rail as a solution to congestion problems.

However, all hope is not lost as there are many success stories at the local level. In Minneapolis, the Hiawatha Light Rail line has exceeded all ridership projections. Planning is well underway for the Northstar Commuter Rail Line that will run from downtown Minneapolis to Big Lake. Funds have already been approved for right-of-way acquisition and improvement for this line. The first trains may roll as soon as 2009. Planning also is underway on the proposed Central Corridor linking downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul along University Avenue. Under current timelines, service may begin in 2014.

More and more people will remember trains as gas prices and the overall world oil situation becomes increasingly bleak. These recollections will translate into pressure on public officials, specifically the Department of Transportation, to include passenger rail in a transportation vision for the 21st century. Tell your elected officials at the local, state, and most importantly federal level that you want to see more, not less, investment in passenger rail. Last but not least, ride the rail!

Northstar Rail Line Info


National Association of Railroad Passengers


Allies of the Earth: Railroads and the Soul of Preservation, by Alfred Runte, Truman State University Press 2006.

Transit Villages in the 21st Century, by Michael Bernick, Robert Cervero, McGraw-Hill Companies 1996.


daily train service from Minneapolis east and west on the Empire Builder.



Transit for Livable Communities
626 Selby Ave, St. Paul, MN


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