Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Minnesota conference on energy hits important rail issues

Today’s most significant policy development comes from the West Central Tribune – Bemiji Pioneer in Minnesota.

BEMIDJI — Calling today’s investment in ethanol production “feedstock,” U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson believes the nation can reach energy independence in 10 to 15 years.

“The bottom-line goal is for us to get off foreign oil,” Peterson, DFL-7th District, said Friday as a keynote speaker at an energy conference at Bemidji State University.

He was joined by U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, DFL-8th District, who said in his remarks that moving more Americans to public transit — or bicycling — can negate the need to import millions of barrels of foreign oil. The first order of business under a new Democrat-controlled House was to move on an energy bill that creates energy independence for America, Oberstar said.

It may be the result of too many years spent watching Arkansas politics (24, to be exact), but such conferences arouse suspicious. Where to begin?

First, completely off-topic, all of this talk of turning corn into fuel suggests to me that the food we enjoy may soon be a lot more expensive. It’s not that I don’t wish the farmers well, it is just that I worry about myself.

Am I the only one that gets a little Suspicious about all this happy talk about getting people from thier automobiles on to bicycles. This is not happening down south. For one thing, it is just too hot and people’s trips to work take too long.

If these guys are so hip to high speed inter-city trains, let’s build a couple!

There was one section that caught my attention. It deals directly with our focus here.

High-speed intercity passenger rail, light rail, commuter rail, dedicated high-speed bus service in the cities, and bicycles will all reduce reliance on oil-using cars, he said.

Federal incentives for transit are working, but more is needed.

“Consumers are responding,” Oberstar said. “In the last five years, we’ve been adding a million new transit riders a day in major metropolitan areas throughout the United States.”

Oberstar has also authored measures to provide short-sea shipping, using the Great Lakes ports to ship by water to salt water ports cargo that now is congested in rail freight yards or in trucks on high-ways.

“Freight movement in this country is absolutely choking,” the Chisholm Democrat said. “Railroads don’t have enough capacity to handle all the containers coming into the United States. … We have 7 million trucks on the road. In this era of just in time delivery of goods, our highways have become rolling inventory warehouses.”

Moving goods by surface vessel from Duluth or Green Bay, Wis., avoids a bottleneck in Chicago, and at lesser cost and with lesser impact on the environment, he said.

This is the mantra of “host” railroads. They correctly point to severe congestion, and then chime in with the latest invention of Wal Mart, “just on time delivery.” That refers to a system of coordination between inventory warehouses, trucks, and stores, using computer tracking to keep products continuously moving to stores where they might be needed.

The concept of “just on time delivery” was an integral part of an interview with Arkansas Congressman John Boozman (R – Wal Mart), who serves on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Boozman’s argument is that Amtrak trains should not have priority access on “host” lines becuase they interfere with efficient freight hauling.

Hearing Oberstar singing from the corporate hymnal is more than disturbing.


Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

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