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 Response Page -
Bob McFarlin  Interview -      

These comments are responses to the questions listed below,
which were generated in regard to the
Bob McFarlin Interview of

The Questions:

_5.7 average_____ 1.  On a scale of (0) most disagreement, to (5) neutral, to (10) most agreement, what is your view on whether Minnesota should make significant investments in expanding passenger rail service?

_8.5 average_____ 2.  On a scale of (0) most disagreement, to (5) neutral, to (10) most agreement, what is your view on whether arrangements to finance operating deficits for expanded rail service should be made before construction begins?

Peter Hennessey (0)(10)

Question 1. Fool me, at first I thought maybe the question was ambiguous. Is it the State of MN that has to "invest" in rail, or does anyone in MN have do so. But question 2 clarified that easily. 

Please note: it cannot be called an "investment" if at the outset you know you will be running at a loss. Hate to be hard nosed about this, but a major reason for the general mess we are in nowadays is our Alice In Wonderland use of the language. If you know you will be running at a loss, then it may be some kind of social service, but it's not an investment. 

No, "societal benefit," however defined or however quantified, is not an acceptable form of return on investment (ROI). At the end of the day, no matter what activity you are engaged in, you have to balance your books.

Question 2. However, this does not mean that I endorse the use of State funds to cover operating deficits. 

You always have to detail your up-front costs and your operating expenses, and where you'll be getting the money or the financing to cover them, even you intend to run this operation as some kind of a service by the State -- and in that case the start-up costs and the operating expenses have to be budgeted via the normal legislative process. Apparently MN and others are already doing that. 

So the question really is, whether building, running or subsidizing mass transit is a legitimate State function. I say no.

Just reflect for a moment. It mass transit were a good investment, then it would be done by private enterprise; the government could help with appropriate legislation, short of funding or confiscating property. If there really is popular support for mass transit, if the public had really decided it was badly needed, then some wily entrepreneur would have already figured out how to provide the service at a profit, i.e., so he could stay in business. 

But at this point it looks like all the clamoring for mass transit comes from people eager to expand government into yet another area of our private lives. This is especially clear in this era of bickering over all the "free" money flowing from Washington in the name of stimulus or whatever; people lose sight of the huge continuing expenses and huge new intrusion into our lives that are mandated by accepting that money, which the States and local governments will have to continue long after that money runs out.

In previous messages on this topic I have explained my feelings about the tragic departure from the business (and urban planning) model that was successful throughout the world a hundred years ago: commuter rail lines radiating from a central big city throughout its suburbs, livable cute little town clustered around each station, and people from outlying areas traveling to the nearest station in their station wagons (guess why they called them that). But governments moved aggressively and vengefully against Big Rail, and sided with Big Truck and Big Car to subsidize roads, interstates and long-distance trucking. Well, at this point I'd say that rather than cure the disease by prescribing more of the same poison, it would be better if we reversed course and remembered the principles on which this nation was founded, trim government back to its bare essentials, and let people solve their own problems without the implied or express threat of the government's powers hanging over them. The government can certainly run studies, suggest plans and generally explain to people the true out-of-pocket cost of a trip to work by car, living out in the boonies rather than closer in, etc., thereby educating and convincing them about the benefits of mass transit. But in the end the people will decide how they'll choose. But you still can't bring home a family's groceries for a week by bus or rail, and you won't catch the pig flu if you are alone in your car.

George Pillsbury (0) (10)

John Milton (10+) (5)

We are indeed at a turning point.  Demand for a rail system, based on the success with the Hiawatha line (and in every other place in the world) makes this a better possibility.  With federal funding, we may still have an opportunity to move Minnesota into 21st century transportation.  I agree, leadership is important.  We need to have the governor, legislative leadership, the Met Council all on the same page.  Maybe we could locked them all in a room (without weapons) and feed them, but not let them out until they come up with a plan for integrated rail-bus-highway transportation.  Good luck!

My criticism is about Pawlenty's policies . . . that have set Minnesota backward and will do even more damage with his new scheme of "unallotment."  Wreck the UofM, wreck MNSCU, deny healthcare to those most in need of it, strip the quality out of K-12, close the parks and libraries, dump more people out onto the streets without jobs . . . so that is, I guess, an ingenious solution to the transportation problem

Carolyn Ring (6) (8)

Question 1:  We do need more transportation alternatives.

Question 2: There is no point in having it, if you do not know how it will  
be funded after completion.

Clarence Shallbetter (0) (10)

Wayne Jennings (8) (7)

I liked his criteria for rail: (a) Move people? (b) Contribute to economic development? (c) Reduce use of fossil fuels? (d) Help people who are transit-dependent?

Donald H. Anderson (0) (0)

Much as we need a coordinated transportation plan, given the cuts in education, health services and other essential services we are faced with in this "no new tax" climate stalemate, I don't see how we can afford any transportation changes other than resurfacing roads and replacing bridges.

Jim Keller (10) (10)

Alan Miller (9) (7)

Bill Hamm (1) (10)

Question 1: Minnesota no, the Metro area your choice. I don't care about your rail service so long as you keep your hands out of my pocket to create it. Your rail service is of no benefit to me so don't call it a Minnesota investment.

Question 2: Again a Metro problem keep it to the Metro area this isn't a rural issue keep it that way.

There seems to be a certain element in the Civic Caucus leadership that is committed to metro commuter rail paid for by rural transportation dollars. The reality is we will fight this even harder than your repeated attempts to get us to pay for your sports stadiums. This is specifically why I will fight tooth and nail to stop any attempt to include rail in with highway funding. You want it you buy it leave us and our funding alone.

Terry Stone (5) (10)

Question 1:  This question implores refinement, e.g., light rail, integrated national high speed rail, intrastate intercity rail? Public investment or public investment? Or has rail become synonymous with public subsidy?

Question 2: Funding the construction, maintenance, operating costs and periodic total rebuilding of rail systems should join the balanced budget as a requirement of the Minnesota Constitution. 

“One cost that is rarely, if ever, mentioned by promoters of passenger rail transportation is that of reconstructing and rehabilitating rail lines, which is needed about every 30 years.”—Cato Institute High Speed Rail Policy Analysis, October 2008

Chuck Slocum (7) (10)

Gordy Jacobson (9) (4)

Chuck Lutz (8) (8)

John Nowicki (8) (10)

Glenn Dorfman (0) (_)

Jan Hively (7) (7)

The communities along the route benefit greatly.  There should be something similar to tax increment districts whereby operating deficits are paid by communities/regions based on a percentage of economic development generated by the line.

Mike Miller (10) (3)

Scott Halstead (0) (10)
Question 1:  Again we have politicians looking out for their interests rather than identifying needs, preparing realistic ridership, estimating operating and maintenance costs and fares, comparing transit/transporatation services now and in the future and doing what is in the best interests of the public. 

Question 2:    LRT and commuter rail fares should be approximately 50% of the operating and maintenance costs including park and ride sites, not the approximate current 25%.

I suggest that Mr. McFarlin become familiar with LRT service in Denver.  They have several LRT lines adjacent to their highways and it is helping moderate road traffic.  The Central Corridor LRT provides zero benefit to our highway system and is just a very expensive bus replacement.   40+ minutes to ride end to end and much slower than express bus service.   The politicians and Transit Managers have installed and are planning rail transit with minimal transit benefits and very large transit subsidies.

Minnesota's transportation/transit system is broken!!!

Joe Lampe (1) (10)

I'm in almost total disagreement with Bob regarding rail investment. Rail is "coming back" only because of the vast sums of federal money being pumped in, not because it's analytically defensible. There is a "transit industrial complex," people who benefit enormously from the status quo in transportation, but who have become delusional about
the alleged benefits of what's being proposed.

There is no meaningful market share available for long distance rail, and the capital and operating costs will be an abomination. Rail works in Japan because of population density and reasonable travel distances (Tokyo has 16 times the density of the Twin Cities). The US is too big and too dispersed for rail to work properly. It worked to some extent in an earlier age before the interstate highway system and reliable air travel.

And I'm a rail enthusiast who rode trains extensively in the '50s, '60s and even into the '70s. Alas, that era is gone forever.

More analysis from a noted environmentalist:
excellent urban transit analysis from Sweden: 

450 miles to
Chicago is at the outer limit of feasible rail trips and there isn't much in between to stop at. Trips on trains will always be a very small fraction of trips by air or automobile. Rail is being done only because of Deep Throat's advice to Bob Woodward: "Follow the money." Certain people make a lot of money from rail projects and politicians are able to create monuments to themselves. A wise voice long ago said of rail: "Better you should build pyramids. They are much more impressive,
have much lower operating costs, and last far longer."

This set of statements is foolishness: "Rail deserves its own set of evaluation criteria. Such as: Does the rail project: (a) Move people? (b) Contribute to economic development? (c) Reduce use of fossil fuels? (d) Help people who are transit-dependent?
If you measure transit against roads,” Bob said, “you will miss much of its intrinsic value.”

The truth is: (a) trivially, (b) inefficiently, (c) trivially, (d) trivially.

There is no "intrinsic value." If you want development, spend directly on it. It's insane to propose that transit is not about moving people -- almost the whole point of transit is to move people out of cars and provide mobility for folks who don't have cars or can't or shouldn't drive. MOBILITY IS THE GOAL.

We need to do much better. Met Council proposes to spend $4.1 billion to
double metro area transit ridership from 300,000 trips per day to 600,000
per day. The goal should be to increase it from 300,000 to 3 million of the
14 million daily trips expected in 2030. But this requires a radically larger
solution set than LRT and busways alone. To be useful, transit has to "go
everywhere all the time." Only Personal Rapid Transit has a prayer of
meeting such ambitious goals.

Al Quie (10) (11)

I am for No. 1 only if No.2 is done. Consider a substantial percent being paid by those who benefit from the line in addition to the fares paid by the riders.

Lyall Schwarzkopf (4) (10)

Bert Press (10) (10)

Steve Alderson (5) (10)

Kent Eklund (9) (9)

Peter Heegaard (10) (10)

Great session!

Rick Bishop (10) (7)

Bill Kuisle (1) (10)

Dave Pierson (3) (9) 

Shirley Heaton

You could remove all Minnesota ID's and you'd be considering Osceola county, Florida (where I live). Rapid transit is an issue which comes continually before the state legislature for consideration and this year, as before, nothing was done. When you realize that one of the reasons we succeeded in our inter-state road system in the early '50's was because of the fear that "The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming" and there was the need to enable quick movement of people and goods. Wonder what it'll take to get things 'moving' this time?

State Sen. Sandy Rummel (8) (8)

Bill Frenzel (1) (10)

Paul Hauge (9) (9)

David Detert (10) (10)


The Civic Caucus   is a non-partisan, tax-exempt educational organization.   The Core participants include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting years of leadership in politics and business. Click here  to see a short personal background of each.

   Verne C. Johnson, chair;  David Broden, Charles Clay, Marianne Curry, Bill Frenzel, Paul Gilje,  Jim Hetland,  Marina Lyon, Joe Mansky, John Mooty,  Jim Olson,  and Wayne Popham 

The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
8301 Creekside Circle #920,   Bloomington, MN 55437.
Verne C. Johnson, chair, 952-835-4549,       Paul A. Gilje, coordinator, 952-890-5220.

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