October 19, 2010
By Michael Flaherty
Wisconsin Technology Council Inside Wisconsin Column
PARIS – The train starts to pick up speed, almost imperceptibly, and within 20 minutes the Eurostar high-speed train has left Paris behind, quietly slicing through the French countryside at 185 miles per hour on its way to London.
Just over two hours later, the five-football-field-long train – one of 20 trains that day – deposits 500 passengers at the St. Pancras International station in central London.
The high-speed Eurostar announced last year it has now transported more than 100 million passengers. That’s 100 million business people, tourists, educators, students, 100 million generators of economic activity among nations that fought each other almost constantly for centuries.
When a Wisconsinite rides the Eurostar, it’s difficult not to reflect on Europe’s success and the debate we’re having over rail in Wisconsin. Or, more succinctly, the debate we’re not having – but ought to.
Wisconsin’s proposed rail system will be nothing like the Eurostar, of course. It will be relatively slow. The trains will be emptier and less efficient, at least at first. They won’t bring nations together or link destinations as world-famous as Paris and London.
But a trip on the Eurostar is a slap on the forehead. It’s a vivid example of what an investment in high-speed rail can do to accelerate growth and economic activity. It’s a window into the future for those willing to invest in a regional economy such as the “I-Q Corridor,” the intellectually rich route connecting Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and the Twin Cities.
For Wisconsin “conservatives” opposed to rail (note the quotes), the Eurostar is a stark reminder that this debate isn’t about a train or the growth of government. It’s about economic growth, economic efficiency and the development of urban and rural areas alike.
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