Editor’s note: Ralph Munro, the long-time Republican secretary of state for the state of Washington, has been monitoring the debate at BizTimes.com about high-speed rail in Wisconsin. Munro decided, along with three other Republican officials in the state of Washington, to write the following entry for the Milwaukee Biz Blog. Note, Munro has performed some consulting work for Talgo Inc., the Spanish company that will build high-speed railcars in Milwaukee.
Wisconsin Republicans opposed to higher-speed rail might want to take a second look. We are four GOP elected officials who worked together to bring Talgo and higher-speed rail to the Vancouver (British Columbia)-Seattle- Portland corridor with remarkable results.
Like Wisconsin, Washington and other states find themselves forced to make hard choices when spending tight public funds. Not only does everyone want government to do more with less, it is also vital to get the best results for the money spent.
So, why are Wisconsin’s GOP gubernatorial candidates lining up in favor of road spending only and against resource-efficient passenger trains?
Here in Washington State, we initiated higher-speed rail capabilities in 1993. After reviewing the benefits of various rail providers, it was our belief that Talgo had the finest, most cost-effective trains for our system. Local aerospace machinists were trained to build and maintain the cars in Seattle, just as they are about to do in Wisconsin.
Since that time, we have been upgrading the system incrementally and the public has responded with steadily increasing ridership. In fact, new ridership is growing by leaps and bounds. Though we began at less than 100,000 passengers per year, we are fast approaching 800,000 riders annually. And “fare box recovery” is growing at a much faster pace than other public transit systems.
Each and every year, our two states and the Canadian province of British Columbia complete necessary road and track work so that we can continually increase our speed and reduce the time required for travel between corridor destinations.
As they are in Washington State, rural communities in your neighboring states of Illinois and Iowa are now embracing rail. Just two tracks can carry as many passengers as 10 lanes of road traffic – railroads move more people using less land.
Trains also use less energy per passenger than automobiles require, are 11 times safer than auto travel and require fewer public dollars than highways do. With AAA calculating the typical cost of driving at 62¢ per mile and Amtrak fares averaging just 26¢ a mile … taking the train becomes the smart way to go.
“But what would a Milwaukee-to-Madison passenger rail corridor do for the rest of Wisconsin?” passenger train critics ask.
A similar question might have been asked all across the United States when the Interstate freeway system was begun in 1956. It didn’t serve every state entirely then, and still doesn’t. But all of Washington and all of Wisconsin benefited through connecting trunk highways and roads.
Similarly, express buses can extend the benefits of fast and affordable train travel to the entire state, the way they do in California, where half of all intercity train riders use bus connections to outlying towns as their rail network grows.
Passenger trains are becoming as vital to a region’s ability to remain competitive as broadband internet is. Nations from China to Argentina, and states from Washington and California to Illinois and Iowa – all are investing in passenger rail. If these competitors are investing in passenger trains, can Wisconsin really afford not to?
We invite all political leaders to consider our track record and then take a second look at rail as part of a relevant and comprehensive package of transportation solutions.
Our very best to you,
Ralph Munro, retired GOP secretary of state for the state of Washington State.
Sid Morrison, retired member of Congress and retired transportation secretary for the state of Washington.
Karen Schmidt, longtime GOP legislator from 23rd District and executive director of the Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board.
Bruce Agnew, former GOP Snohomish County Councilman and director of the Cascadia Institute.