by Winona Mayor Mark F .Peterson
Those of you who know me well are aware of my lifelong passion for history. It was my major in college. It has been my vocation at the Winona County Historical Society. I even taught it at Winona State University. History is important — we really can learn from our past experiences to help shape a better future.
A few people look at the idea of expanding passenger rail service as a nostalgic throwback to yesteryear. They wonder who would even ride a train anymore. Well, here in Winona, quite a few people do, and that’s on a service — the Amtrak Empire Builder — that is sometimes late as it comes from the west. Approximately 120,000 trips are taken annually between the Twin Cities and Chicago. Last year, more than 14,000 boardings took place here in Winona. Every year nearly 10-million trips are taken between the Twin Cities and Chicago by car, plane and train. There is demand, and there are people who don’t want to take a plane or a car to get to where they are going.
The idea of a second train has been around for a few years and is partway through the planning stages. The Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago (TCMC) Second Train is not a throwback to the Iron Horse. It is a forward-looking proposal for a modern, comfortable, safe, alternative means of transportation that provides other benefits, such as job creation, tourism expansion, safety improvements and economic development. Here in Winona, I’m excited to get more visitors to Steamboat Days or the Shakespeare Festival. College students are riding — 41 percent in Winona have taken the train to or from school, and 57 percent have said they would take the train if more frequent service were available. Wouldn’t our local manufacturing executives like to occasionally take advantage of the “rolling office” of a train while also traveling for business?
Our city would be improved as part of the TCMC Second Train project, which includes reconstructing the siding and station platform in Winona to allow Amtrak to pull right up to the edge of the platform closer to the station. People would not have to cross tracks and climb up on a stool to board the train.
Our city officials have historically supported the idea of expanding passenger rail service, and I am one of them. Momentum is building. This year, the Winona Chamber of Commerce passed a resolution in support of the second train. Both Minnesota Governor Walz and Wisconsin Governor Evers included funding for passenger rail in their budgets. We should thank our own Senator Jeremy Miller for authoring a bill on behalf of the second train.
Your voice is also needed. Go to www.GreatRiverRail.org to learn more about the second train and how to get involved. We want the TCMC Second Train to serve Winona and beyond. All aboard!