Archived Story

Guest Column: Tracks toward the state’s future

Published 9:46am Thursday, October 31, 2013

High-speed rail would directly benefit Hormel, Austin area

By William Hume

Southern Minnesota will have high-speed rail in the future, that is fact. Vast economic and lifestyle benefits will come with it. Let me describe the future picture for you … For Austin and Albert Lea, a dual city station. Only the existing Union Pacific rail freight line running north/south from Iowa to Minnesota has the land form to accommodate genuine high-speed passenger and fast freight rail. Get the part about fast freight. That is the commercial enterprise factor which will make operational high-speed rail profitable and real.There is potential for large Class 1 railroads like Union Pacific, Canadian Pacific and BNSF to realize profit and technical advancement from high-speed freight.

Hormel Foods in Austin would benefit from a fast transportation feature such as high-speed freight. Delivery time would be cut to one-forth of current schedule. Hormel’s products would leave the plant and arrive in Los Angeles in 15 hours. It equals more volumes of Hormel shipped in less time. New high-speed freight car designs could reach speeds of up to 150 mph safely.

As I speak to you, these designs are already in the works. Big rail is working in corporate planning for real fast rail today.

That freight would go in all directions of the compass. Here is the tie-in: High-speed passenger service comes along with it. Caterpillar’s Electro Motive Division is already building its new, fast 125-mph passenger engine — the F125. Gearing options would propel it to 150 mph easy.

High-speed passenger trains will never pay a profit or even cover operational costs unless commercial freight service is combined. That commercial element will also see the return of United States Postal Service to the rails. USPS will realize the cost saving measures of giving lots of mail back to the railroad.

How will Austin be part of this future vision?

Imagine a clockwise direction. Let’s start in Austin. Stationing would be close to Albert Lea, not far away in a new LEED energy efficient architecture, park and ride or lock up your bike, even walk there. Passengers could travel north or south. North to the Twin Cities stopping at the newly renovated Union Depot in St. Paul. Then east to Milwaukee, Chicago. High-speed then to St. Louis and Kansas City. North again to Des Moines and Austin/Albert Lea.

This route would be a cooperation of Union Pacific, Canadian Pacific and BNSF. And yes; the Feds will have to contribute billions of dollars towards construction in this multi-state effort. It will be a function of national security and defense, just like the original interstate highway defense envisioned by President Dwight Eisenhower. If politicians want to get to the Emerald City, it’s going to cost them. Huge money from Washington has already been lavished on California and Illinois for their planned high-speed systems. Southern Minnesota will get a turn, also. It will take voices from people like you in Austin to get it going and start the fire of imagination.

Fast freight and passenger for Austin at 125 mph will be just the beginning. That is diesel power. Phase one of the technical advancement.

Now comes the real race! Eventually overhead electric catenary, or wires, will be installed to feed environmentally clean power to pantographs on the engines. These engines will be like aircraft. Sleek, built with lightweight composites, carbon fibers, titanium and aluminum. Power will be in the range of 40,000 horsepower per unit. Gearing will permit speeds of 300-plus mph with the right atmospheric density and air during those days.

Currently the French have the record from 2007 with a special TGV prototype high-speed passenger train that set the world record at 357.2 mph. That, my friend, is real fast. Flying on the ground.

At speed this train would average 200-plus mph. On the flatlands of Illinois and Iowa reaching upwards of 250 to 300 mph. Can a rider board in Austin and see that record broken … Sure!

Our American high-speed train will have technical cooperation for aerodynamics from design departments at Lockheed and Boeing aircraft. Austin will start up new manufacturing industries to fabricate parts for the engine and car assembly. Manufacturing very possibly the individual passenger seats, with many ergonomic adjustments, or aircraft glass. Electronics and computer programmed integrants could also be put together in Austin.

High-speed rail for Austin is all about lifestyle opportunities in travel, and extreme wealth coming into the city with new high technology business. Envision a smaller version of “Silicon Valley” right here in Austin. Hormel will invent new products to ship on fast high speed freight container to the L.A. sea port, and the world.

Let me take you on a ride. Cruise with me around the Midwestern loop through Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City and Minnesota. In the eventual electric high-speed train.

You board in total security, flashing your American Rail Pass Card that has all your stats, even your personal passenger seat configuration, now adjusting before you even sit down!

It’s winter, the seat has heated elements. It feels just like a hot stone massage.

Overhead your reserved area has a luggage bin, and your seat is individual with an advanced satellite computer, 20-inch diagonal. The ride is so smooth you feel like flying on glass. Attendants cater to your every need. In 20 minutes, you’re in the St. Paul station. That included quick stops also in Owatonna, Faribault and Northfield.

In three hours, you’re in downtown Chicago’s massive Union Station. There you’ll connect transit to another electric high-speed. Your in New York City from there in just another five hours.

Enjoy Times Square and the shopping on Fifth Avenue.

You’ll be home to Austin late that very same night!

William Hume, a lifelong Minnesotan, is retired from civil engineering/land surveying, in the Twin Cities area. He writes about the future of high-speed rail nationally, and has been published by the American Association of Railroads in Washington, DC. Contact him at (

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