For Immediate Release:
On July 9, 2020 La Crosse, Wisconsin became the first city in the country to pass a municipal resolution in support of Solutionary Rail! And they did so after being urged by BNSF to reject the resolution. The effort was initiated by City of La Crosse Environmental Planner employee Lewis Kuhlman, an urban and environmental planner who has an affinity for rail. Kuhlman, disappointed by Governor Scott Walker's undermining of the high speed rail project from the Twin Cities to Chicago found some solace when he learned about Solutionary Rail.
This resolution was not the first that Kuhlman has brought before the council. Previous attempts were not always met with bipartisan enthusiasm of the members. The Solutionary Rail resolution was different. Kuhlman began the process by reaching out to a conservative member of the council who had objected to an previous resolution. That member not only approved of the Solutionary Rail resolution, he offered to co-sponsor it, on the condition that it would be backed up by follow-up actions by city staff with the state legislature, governor and BNSF.
Rail connects people in ways that other issues do not. Historic resonance, connections to people's family histories, and the many intersecting issues addressed by Solutionary Rail allow unlikely allies to come together in common cause. La Crosse occupies an important juncture along the Northern Transcon. BNSF and Soo Line (owned by Canadian Pacific RR) intersect in La Crosse and it is also a stop along Amtrak's Empire Builder. The promise of protecting and creating living wage jobs, reducing negative impacts of transmission on sensitive areas, and climate goals all played a part in establishing support for this resolution.
Replying to BNSF objections:
This is the first time BNSF has ever responded to Solutionary Rail or acknowledged the campaign's existence. They are clearly aware of our efforts but have consistently failed to respond to our inquiries. We can only speculate about why that is, but it is likely that they were hoping we'd simply disappear. In their letter to the La Crosse Common Council, they refer coin a term "premature electrification." One may blush or giggle at such a concept, but we do not believe that there is anything premature about electrifying US railroads or any aspect of the Solutionary Rail proposal. We also take issue with other BNSF objections. US railroads must evolve to serve the public interests that are also evolving. Rail is a critical component of a decarbonized, efficient transportation infrastructure that moves people and freight to bolster sustainable local and national economies alike.
- We welcome BNSF to join in a dialog about how the rest of the world successfully electrifies their railroads.
- We welcome the developments in battery technology that ease the transition and offer a method for avoiding electrification of some of the most difficult and expensive areas to electrify.
- We applaud BNSF's said commitment to being a green alternative to trucking and encourage them to aggressively pursue the mode shifting of all freight travelling over 500 miles and significant increase in service for freight travelling over 250 miles.
- We embrace their commitment to communities along their route and challenge them to increase access to the rails by allowing small and medium producers to easily access shipping by train rather than trucks that clog roads, wear out local roads and pollute communities.
- We encourage BNSF to take advantage of other state and federal programs to electrify the operations in all their yards to protect the health of communities and their workers. We encourage them to support yet more substantial federal policies and budget as described in the House Climate Action Plan and the Moving Forward Act.
- We welcome the opportunity to bring BNSF together with stakeholders and policy makers to overcome the challenges of infrastructure improvements such as grade separation and increasing rail capacity, as well as the gradual electrification of their routes and ensuring interoperability through the utilization of battery and hybrid locomotives.
- We look forward to advancing the conversation with BNSF and others about the utilization of railroad corridors for the creation of a national supergrid to transmit renewable energy efficiently across the country in ways that support the long term vitality of the railroads and the country they serve.
Contrary to BNSF's turn of phrase, here is absolutely nothing "premature" about this vision. As a matter of fact, US railroads are dramatically behind in electrification. The US needs to double our efforts to decarbonize our transportation and energy infrastructures. The time for actions like the one taken by the La Crosse Wisconsin Common Council is NOW.
Thank you to Lewis Kuhlman for his leadership and to President and all the members of the La Crosse Common Council for setting the pace for, so that others can follow.
Read the BNSF letter urging the Council to defeat the resolution at: http://cityoflacrosse.legistar.com/View.ashx…