Editorial: Dont travelers get a choice?

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 10, 2008

Year after year, Minnesota and other states mourn traffic deaths, and though efforts are made to reduce traffic deaths, little is said or done about our modes of travel.

You&8217;ve probably heard the comparison that as many Americans die on America&8217;s roads each year as died in the war in Vietnam. That was in the 1980s when the death toll for America&8217;s roads hovered around 50,000 each year. Nowadays, the number hovers close to 42,000 a year.

The death toll in Minnesota for 2007 is 503, up from 494 in 2006. Generally, the trend has been toward lower figures than previous years because of an excellent Toward Zero Deaths campaign by the state&8217;s law enforcement agencies. That 2006 figure of 494 deaths was the lowest since 1945. And the 2007 figure for the state includes 12 people who died in the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge and six who died in floods.

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Even though progress has clearly been made on the highways, something still needs to be said for the problem at hand. Clearly, if 500 people perished in a singular incident, it would be tragic. Politicians would call for change, and choices would be available to travelers.

Not only does America need alternative fuels, it needs alternative transportation. Europe has an excellent network of commuter trains. Amtrak is successful only in places where it serves daily commuters, and it is a failure where it becomes a long-distance carrier.

Take Albert Lea as an example. People here travel to the Twin Cities a lot more than San Francisco, but Amtrak caters more to the infrequent cross-country trip. It would be safer to travel to the Cities via train than hurtling down the weather-stricken freeways at 70 mph in automobiles with hundreds of other licensed drivers, all in various states of fatique and sobriety. There&8217;s another good reason: Who doesn&8217;t simply get tired of driving everywhere?

Passenger rail from Albert Lea and Austin through Owatonna, Faribault and Northfield only makes sense &8212; for safety, for energy savings, for prosperity.