Organized labor and environmentalists in Wisconsin and Minnesota are hoping to change Governor-elect Scott Walker’s mind about high speed rail. The AFL-CIO is holding a candlelight vigilTuesday night at the Talgo train plant in Milwaukee, while the Sierra Club has planned weekend rallies in Madison, Milwaukee, Oshkosh, Eau Claire and La Crosse. It’s all part of an ongoing effort to convince the incoming Republican governor to allow a federally funded high speed rail line to be built between Madison and Milwaukee. Walker, who made opposition to the train one of the main themes of his campaign, has indicated he’s not changing his mind on the project.
“Minnesota wants the high speed rail from Chicago to Minneapolis-St. Paul,” said Shar Knutson is President of the Minnesota AFL-CIO. The Milwaukee to Madison was seen as part of larger network that would eventually tie together the cities of the Midwest. “I will be saddened if he does not reconsider this, and think of it in a broader sense, where it’s not just saying no to dollars today, but looking at what those dollars will bring to Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Midwest. Knutson said Walker’s rejection of the Milwaukee to Madison line will jeopardize high speed rail in Minnesota, costing that state jobs and potential economic development. The Minnesota union sent a letter to Walker asking him to reconsider.
Walker has indicated that he would like to see some federal funding used to upgrade Amtrak’s heavily used ‘Hiawatha’ service between Milwaukee and Chicago, but said during the campaign and last week that he didn’t want Wisconsin taxpayers saddled with the ongoing costs of the Milwaukee to Madison line. Shahla Werner of the Wisconsin John Muir chapter of the Sierra Club says the weekend rallies are aimed at changing his mind. “We can only hope for the best. If we thought this was a lost cause we certainly wouldn’t be spending fourteen hours a day trying to put together these rallies,” she said. And, despite the high profile Walker gave to his anti-rail views during the campaign, Werner claims voters were unaware of the consequences. “If they really thought that he was going to go on after the election and say no to almost 10,000 jobs . . . I mean that is almost mind boggling.”
“If Wisconsin drops out the picture, that means the whole Midwest will be affected, said Knutson. “We won’t be able to be part of that national infrastructure upgrade. It will have an effect on our economy, on how jobs can proceed, on how businesses can prosper.”
WIBA’s John Colbert contributed to this report