Fed-supported Minnesota light railway opens

Fed-supported Minnesota light railway opens
© Wikimedia Commons

A Minnesota light rail line that was touted by President Obama - and partially paid for by the federal government - opened for passenger service over the weekend, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports

The light railway, which runs between downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., was constructed over four years at a cost of $957 million.  About half of the funding was provided by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) through its "New Starts" program for transit construction. 

The line, which is operated by Minneapolis’ Metro Transit, is known as the Green Line. It carried approximately 75,000 passengers in its first two days of operation, according to the report, though riders were offered for free to encourage Minneapolis and St. Paul residents to try out the new railway.

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Critics have questioned whether it will generate enough ridership to justify its construction costs. However, President Obama called the light railway “spiffy” during a trip to Minneapolis in February to push Congress to approve a new transportation funding bill.

"I just had a chance to take a look at some of those spiffy new trains,” Obama said then. “They are nice, and they’re energy efficient. They’re going to be reliable. You can get from one downtown to the other in a little over 30 minutes instead of, when it’s snowing, being in traffic for two hours."

The Obama administration has encouraged the construction of light railways and streetcars by providing grants and loans to states that are constructing them through the FTA.

“More Americans should have access to the kind of efficient, affordable transit you’re going to have with the Green Line,” Obama said in his February speech. “There’s no faster way or better way for Congress to create jobs right now and to grow our economy right now, and have a positive impact on our economy for decades than if we start more projects and finish more projects like this one.”

Conservative groups like the Cato Institute have criticized light railways as being “wasteful and inefficient,” however.

“Rail advocates don’t like to admit it, but buses can carry more people, more comfortably, and to more places, for far less money, than light rail,” Cato Institute senior fellow Randal O’Toole said in an op-ed in the Daily Caller.

“Three-car light-rail trains that run in streets can hold up to 450 people, more than any bus,” O’Toole continued. “But most light-rail lines can only run about 20 trains per hour, whereas a single bus stop can serve 42 buses per hour. By staggering bus stops, a single street can serve more than 160 buses per hour.”