It’s shameful to read an article like this one, then think that it’s called a news article. It reads more like a press release from the Central Minnesota Transportation Authority, the St. Cloud Chamber of Commerce or from Dave Kleis’s office.

The article started by saying “The first Northstar commuter train left Big Lake 10 minutes before dawn on Tuesday. St. Cloud commuters who started downtown on the Link bus left at 3:50 a.m. to catch that train. They arrived in Minneapolis before 6 a.m. I took the last Link and the last train on Tuesday morning, and it still felt early. My trip from bus, to train, to light rail, to the Minnesota Capitol in downtown St. Paul took nearly three hours, but it was easy, prompt and clean.

“For a few moments I felt like a traveler in Europe, looking over farm fields and forests from the top deck of a train. I’ve driven between St. Cloud and the Cities along Minnesota Highway 10 hundreds of times. This was more relaxing. After I arrived at the Capitol — I am the government reporter, after all — I wound up walking a few miles for coffee and a meeting off site. My feet got sore.”

It’s good that Ms. Hertel mentioned that she’s the SC Times’ government reporter. If not for that mention, I might’ve thought that she was the PR director for the Chamber of Commerce.

Later in the article, Ms. Hertel wrote this:

Wolgamott commuted to the Capitol on Northstar a couple times this year as he was pushing his colleagues to fund research into a route expansion. He preferred the train to “sitting in traffic, inching down the interstate,” Wolgamott said Tuesday. He brought his daughter Lily on one trip and they met conductor Vincent Roberts, he said. “She thought it was pretty cool to meet the conductor.”

That’s nice. That doesn’t tell the Times’ readers why this is a vital project. It’s just a cute story. On the other hand, this is important information that’s buried deep in the article:

Relph wants to get a sense of who would benefit from the extended route, so participating communities know how much to pitch in to the cost, which won’t be covered solely by ticket sales, he said. “This will be subsidized.”

The article doesn’t say how big the subsidy will be. It just says that there will be a subsidy. Then there’s this:

The cost of a route extension is not clear. A 2017 Legislative fiscal note estimated capital costs around $37 million. As lawmakers consider expansion of Northstar, $4 million is already allocated for facility improvements in Big Lake to maintain the existing fleet for 20 more years.

The more I learn about this project, the more it sounds like a total boondoggle.

There’s an old saying about boats. It says “A boat is a hole in the water surrounded by wood into which one pours money.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? There’s another saying that dovetails with the first saying. It says “the 2 best days of owning a boat are the day you buy it and the day you sell it.”

With Northstar, unfortunately, there won’t be a day we sell it. The subsidies will never end. They’ll only get more expensive. The replacement costs for the train will be forever. Like the subsidies, those costs will only go up.

Just for comparison, there are more cars that use I-94 in a single day than there are riders on Northstar in a year. What’s more, I-94 pays for itself. Plus, it’s capable of transporting goods to markets. Northstar can’t do that if its life depended on it. At best, Northstar is a niche produce. At worst, which I suspect is likely, it’s a boondoggle.

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