New Study: Freight Rail Linked to Healthier Economy

Updated: 09/19/2013 11:20 PM By: Naomi Pescovitz

Freight traffic comes with its share of nuisances, but new research from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs shows the rail system has significant perks.

A panel of researchers, politicians and industry representatives will discuss the new study Friday morning at the University of Minnesota campus.

"We have a great freight rail network, in fact we are the envy of the world," said BNSF Railway CEO and Chairman Matthew Rose.

"If you don't have that good freight system, that includes rail, then the economy would be in much worse shape than it is now," said researcher Lee Munnich, Director of the State and Local Policy Program at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

The study shows Minnesota's economic growth is better than the national average, partly because of the State's ability to export certain commodities by rail. Minnesota ranks first in the nation for the movement of iron ore and third for farm products.

"Policy makers are starting to look at, well what are the things that we could do, well maybe rail is something that we ought to focus on," Munnich said.

Freight has also delivered controversy in recent years. St. Louis Park resident Jami LaPray lives just a few dozen feet from a track that could see more freight trains if traffic is rerouted to make room for the Southwest Light Rail Line.

"We believe that freight is what our economy needs but it needs to be where it's safest and where it can run most efficiently," LaPray said.

The panel goes from 9 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. on Friday morning at the Cowles Auditorium at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Speakers include U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, Former U.S. Rep. and House Transportation Committee Chair James Oberstar, Minnesota Rep. Michael Beard, Minnesota Senator Scott Dibble and BNSF Railway CEO and Chairman Matthew K. Rose.