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Time to nail a silver spike in Count Trackula

Wisconsin State Journal Guest Column:

FRI., JAN 16, 2009 - 5:32 PM
Richardson: Time to nail a silver spike in 'Count Trackula'
Bill Richardson
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In mid-December the Transport 2020 "new starts" application for diesel-powered commuter trains in Madison, which critics charge will cause more congestion, pollution and driver frustration, was spiked by the Federal Transit Administration.

When even the FTA says, "no way," does rail make sense for such a tiny population? Isn't it time to drive the silver stake through "Count Trackula," dissolve T2020 and stop the bleeding of millions of tax dollars for a train to serve 1 percent of the Madison elite?

For the past 10 years, the well-intentioned T2020 committee composed mostly of "trainiacs" has burned through $9 million in taxpayer money attempting to force feed commuter rail to Madison and Middleton.

Instead of fact-based visionary planning that looks at all possibilities to improve mobility and reduce congestion, it has been faith-based planning by the train believers.

Unlike a bus system, where one can immediately add a bus line, go anywhere there is a road and experiment with routes to see if there is ridership -- adding buses if riders appear, or shutting it down with little financial loss -- rail needs $255 million simply to kick start it.

Over five years and over a billion dollars will be spent before the first passenger steps aboard a 19th century marvel -- a train. Suddenly, automobile commuters and emergency vehicles will face unparalleled gridlock as they sit at railroad crossings waiting for the train.

Some facts:

- The Minnesota Hiawatha rail of 11.6 miles (estimated at $480 million) cost $715 million in 2002 dollars to build and $20 million a year to run. 

- The Metro Light Rail in Phoenix opened Dec 27, took four years to build and cost $1.4 billion for 20 miles of track.

- By 2014, assuming four years to build 16 miles of track, the "Madison Money Burner" from Middleton to Burke will easily break $1 billion.

If few ride the train and it is shut down, those federal funds have to be repaid -- one reason cities raise bus fares to support rail and keep pouring tax dollars into their failed rail systems.

The pro-train, anti-car, no-new-roads-or-parking people site the Isthmus' narrow width as the main reason better roads "can't be built" in Madison to relieve congestion.

These same reasons apply when one considers how impractical commuter rail is if you add trains crossing 60 highways 180 times a day, most of them in the Isthmus, with a total projected 8,000 railroad crossings between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. daily.

Contact officials and tell them to spend transportation dollars in relation to usage. Eighty-eight percent of people commute by car, 4.5 percent by bus and 2 percent by bicycle.

Richardson, of Middleton, is a member of thegreattrainrobbery.org.

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