Why Twin Cities Trains Are Not Like Europe

Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Tom Page from London, UK

I was having breakfast at the St Clair Grille, next to Macalester College in St Paul.  There were three college aged students listening to a third in the booth next to mine.  The woman was telling her two male companions that the Twin Cities needed more train systems.  Lots more.

When she commented that, “Even the old cities in Europe have trains,” I decided to see if I could join in (I paraphrase):

ME: “I heard your talk about trains. I know quite a bit about that. Mind if I comment? (She nodded yes). “Have you ever lived in Europe?”

SHE: “Yes, I went to college near London for 2 semesters and that’s why I know about their ‘underground’.”

ME: “But London’s are completely unlike our city trains. In fact almost completely different.”

SHE: “I don’t think so.”

ME: “I think I’m right; here’s why:

First, the London underground was built during our Civil War – starting about 1860, and built with private money not taxes, and the fare charged was an amount not requiring taxpayer ticket subsidies. But in the Twin Cities we created millions and millions of taxpayer owed debt, and even the daily operations require taxpayer subsidies. Last time I saw a report the taxpayers were paying more than a dollar per rider;

And also maybe most different, the tracks in London are all underground–tunneling was used to go under the entire city–typically about 30 meters below ground–using technology now more than 100 years old. The London goal was to maintain the city’s full infrastructure. However, in Minneapolis our trains are in the middle of streets–eliminating roadways for auto use, and increasing non-train travel times even though one of the claimed benefits of light rail was to reduce street congestion. It also makes the whole city look like a train station;

Finally, the builder in London said his goal was different than ours–it was to free workers from having to live in inner city ghettos with high rents–which was in fact accomplished when London created broader suburbs after its underground was operating.

But here, our unelected Metropolitan Council’s goal is to increase inner city population and allow those now living near suburban jobs to move downtown which they said also accomplishes the council’s goal to increase inner city diversity by importing non-minorities.

SHE: “Maybe. But I still think more trains are a good idea.”

ME: “Well you are apparently an expert on one side of the issue.  But now at least your friends know that there are two.”

Jim Van Houten