Passenger train to benefit students

The new train will provide service to Chicago and Wisconsin.

Andrea Schug

By 2020, the state hopes to have a complete high-speed rail service from Minneapolis to Chicago, providing students with a more efficient method of public transportation. For the 2008-09 academic year, 26 percent of the student population at the University of Minnesota was out-of-state residents. Because of this, many out-of-state students rely on public transportation to travel to and from their home state. Communications sophomore Elizabeth Goodman said she travels home to Milwaukee, Wis., just once each semester because of time constraints. âÄúIf I want to get home, I have to take the bus,âÄù Goodman said. âÄúIf I want to go home, I want to actually spend time at home, and in order to do that I have to skip class and work, which is just too hard to do.âÄù According to Megabus.com, a trip from Minneapolis to Chicago is currently at least eight hours and at least six hours to Milwaukee. The new high-speed system would cut the trip to Chicago down to 5 1/2 hours. âÄúItâÄôd be so much more convenient for people to travel,âÄù Goodman said. âÄúThey wouldnâÄôt have to sit on a stuffy bus for six hours.âÄù When planning a trip, students also have to budget for the cost of a round-trip ticket or gas if they chose to drive. History sophomore Lauren Christensen, from Oconomowoc, Wis., said the main factor stopping her from visiting home is cost. âÄúI go home once or twice per semester,âÄù Christensen said. âÄúIâÄôd go a couple more times if there were cheaper and more convenient ways to get there.âÄù Although prices have not been set for the train system, Dan Krom, director of the Office of Passenger Rail at MnDOT, said tickets could end up being comparable to current Amtrak prices. In 2008, during the initial planning stages for the high-speed rail service, the Minnesota Legislature required MnDOT to provide a Comprehensive Statewide Freight and Passenger Rail Plan for the February 2010 State Transportation Plan. Although this plan was managed by MnDOT, cooperation from private businesses, public officials and the general public was key to completing the plan, Krom said. âÄúWeâÄôve had an extensive public information and involvement process,âÄù Krom said. âÄúThereâÄôs been a tremendous response, and everyone seems enthused to have passenger trains in the future.âÄù On Jan. 28, the federal government granted Minnesota $600,000 to study the implementation of rail service from Minneapolis to Madison, Wis. Minnesota and Wisconsin will contribute $300,000 in order to compensate for the remainder of the $1.2 million it will cost for the study. âÄúFor the first time in 40 years, thereâÄôs federal money to develop passenger rail services in America,âÄù Krom said. The stateâÄôs goal is to have the high-speed system complete by 2020, but various parts of the line will be in use before then, Krom said. âÄúThere are a lot of students using that [Amtrak] service now,âÄù Krom said. âÄúStudents are savvy travelers, and if thereâÄôs a rail option available, students will take it.âÄù