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This train's more than just a toy

Posted: Wed Dec 22, 2004 8:16 am
by OwlCaboose2853
This train's more than just a toy

By Mike Moore

Reading all of those kids' cute letters to Santa last week got me thinking about my own wish list.

Forget the stocking stuffers. I've got my eye on a $152 million gift.

I understand it might take a while. No hurry; I've got other plans for this Christmas. I hope to wake up someday soon and find an extension of the Metra train line under the tree. I'd be the first to tear off the bow and start playing with it.

Technically it'd be a present for all of Racine County, but I'm an only child. I get dibs.

The flatlanders think they're gonna nail me by doubling the tolls next month? I'll just put my bulging bag o' change toward one of those comfy train seats instead.

With a more convenient place to get on, that once or twice a year I summon the ambition to go to Chicago might become three or four times a year.

I'm a mass transit geek. Ask me to name my favorite part of a trip and it'll usually involve a city's subway or train system.

Trains are just plain cool. Can we have 'em - please, please, please? Maybe we should just go ahead and flood Santa's mailbox.

Wait. We're adults. Nobody's going to buy us a nine-figure toy just 'cause we want it, not even the financially illiterate federal government. An occasional weekend trip to the museums or the Chicago nightspots isn't going to justify it.

Last year's transit study predicted that, by 2020, somewhere between 630 and 790 people would board on an average weekday at the Racine Metra station, and 250 to 310 in Caledonia. Where are they? Not at last year's public hearings, for sure. Most of the supporters who showed up there were nostalgic train buffs.

I'm no expert, but I'm fairly sure that for commuter rail to work, it needs commuters. It'd be a lot easier to sell this if those hundreds of future commuters were marching on City Hall, demanding the Metra project be approved and yelling clever slogans like, "All Aboard For Progress!" Maybe they've been absent because don't know they need it yet.

Recent headlines tell us why we can't wait for them to realize it. We need the service here. Not "need" like a 9-year-old needs the "Shrek 2" video, but "need" as in survival. Another 600-plus workers will join the unemployed next year when Intermet closes.

Roger Caron has been around long enough to realize that won't be the last of those headlines. He's the president of Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce and a strong Metra backer. He hopes people will realize the long-term benefits of the thing will outweigh the pain of the cash we'll probably have to kick in.

"We just need to step up and say there's a sense of urgency, because these things aren't going to stop," Caron said.

The fact the project nearly died a couple of times made me wonder if the local leaders had that urgency, at least until Racine Mayor Gary Becker started pushing this extra gas tax. I don't know if that's the best way to go about it, considering it'd be the people who don't use Metra who pay for it. At least the topic has a pulse again.

Who knows how much further the labor outlook will dim here? Northern Illinois or Milwaukee might offer some hope to the next sets of workers who get tossed to the curb. To them, the Metra would be much more than a toy.

Of course, we don't want Illinois to have all of the fun. Employees have to come our way, too.

That's another reason for urgency, Caron said: The focus should be on keeping the employers who are still here happy, and they think this project is important.

"Shouldn't that be on our radar screen?" Caron said.

In an ideal world, those firms would chip in a few bucks to help make it happen, but you know the saying about who needs who more.

Toy or not, it's important that we get this Metra extension wrapped up.

http://www.journaltimes.com/articles/20 ... 282971.txt