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Opinion

Wistful traveler contemplates values of train use

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April 4, 2014

This may be a large assumption on my part, but I believe that most people have seen or at least heard of the TV show “The Big Bang Theory.”

If you are one of those people, the show is a comedy about the interactions between a group of smart but nerdy guys. One of these nerds is named Sheldon and, as any fan of the series knows, Sheldon loves trains.

I recently took a trip to Japan and discovered how convenient trains are. One thing I appreciated about the trains in Japan, which I heard is not true in other places such as Europe, is that the trains are almost always on time. On longer trips, you did not even need to pay attention to the stops, only to the time of arrival.

Now as fun as these railway trips were, they inspired a desire to have something similar here. Now do not think I am misinformed, we do have trains here but not even close to as many as there seemed to be in Japan, especially when you think in terms of density.

Imagine this before you argue about how awesome a train system would be: you have a relatively free weekend so you decide to go somewhere. You walk a few blocks to a nearby station and from there you only have an hour’s trip to the Twin Cities or to any number of other cities. All for one reasonably priced ticket.

Maybe those with cars would disagree about the usefulness of trains as a means of travel but frankly it sounds like a simple way to get around. With gas prices increasing and environmental concerns continuing, more public transportation is not a bad thing to invest in.

So here is what I propose: several train lines that loop around smaller towns and connect to the cities. There would be several trains per line so that a train would stop at a particular station at least once per hour.preferably at the same time each hour but that is probably hoping for too much.

Inside the Twin Cities there would be another loop that covers the main city areas. Tokyo had a train at each station at 2 minute intervals with a total city loop taking about an hour. We would not need that many trains because the Twin Cities does not have as many people to provide transportation to. A fairly regular train with a short interval would be useful for all the people who live and work in the area.

Now I realize this may not be the most practical plan, as I am not an engineer, but it would still be a useful system for those who wanted to ride the trains.

For example, if one weekend a group of friends wanted to go have fun in the city, they would not need to worry about driving home safely. The train could get them from point A to B and back again with little trouble. Those with small children could have a relaxing day if they traveled by train.

Not only would the youngsters be entertained by the train but the caretakers would not have to deal with the frustrations of folding up a stroller or driving in inner-city traffic. The train could take them to a park or museum. Finding a convenient parking spot would no longer be an issue.

Maybe it is the wistful traveler talking, but I believe a series of trains throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin would be a positive investment for the economy, environment and our connection as people of the Midwest. Expand the vision to encompass the whole United States.

Japan has the Shinkansen, or the Bullet Train. Europe does too. So why don’t we? Frankly, since we are a larger country, we could use it more. Think of traveling from Minnesota to Chicago in under 3 hours, racing across the country side at over a hundred miles per hour. It would truly help unify the country if that type of fast and inexpensive transportation was readily available to the public. Think about it. Trains racing across the United States.

As Sheldon Cooper would say, “We’re not flying; we’re taking the train.”

Rachel Molitor is a student at UW-River Falls.