Light railway touted by Obama scheduled to open Saturday

Light railway touted by Obama scheduled to open Saturday
© Wikimedia Commons

A Minnesota light rail line that was touted by President Obama is scheduled to open for passenger service on Saturday. 

Minneapolis’ Metro Transit authority is scheduled to open its new long-awaited Green Line expansion to St. Paul. 

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,” he said. “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."

Obama was touting the renovation of St. Paul’s Union Depot train station, which will be the last station of the new light railway, during his remarks. The rail depot was reconstructed in part with money from the 2009 economic stimulus package. 

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 Federal Transit Administration. 

“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.”

Minneapolis Metro Transit officials have touted the opening as of the Green Line as a historic day for Minneapolis and St. Paul. 

“There are so many destinations to choose from: the history of the Capitol City, the cuisine along University Avenue, the energy of the University of Minnesota campus, the bustle of downtown Minneapolis,” the agency said on its website, which displays a countdown clock to the opening of the light railway. 

The transit agency said it is planning to offer free rides on all of its trains and buses this weekend to commemorate the opening of the Green Line.