Readers Write: Northstar rail, Glasgow climate summit, gardening, Pope Francis and Biden, small towns

The possibility of shutting down the deficit-plagued Northstar commuter rail line between Minneapolis and Big Lake is back in the news, but doing so unilaterally also has a price: $85 million paid back to the feds for early termination and $107 million invested in train path capacity that cannot be recovered (“Northstar rail runs into more trouble,” front page, Nov. 1). Better, instead, to save and leverage these funds by reinvesting in more relevant rail-based transportation in that corridor. Here’s how:

First, keep the train service, but scale it back, replacing the six weekday round trips out of Big Lake with three round trips out of St. Cloud, morning, midday and evening, with stops limited to Coon Rapids and Ramsey. This would recognize that Minnesota’s busiest intercity travel corridor is likely to remain popular with students, intermittent commuters and the transit-dependent even as traditional downtown commuting to Minneapolis declines.

This would remove Northstar train miles from the host freight railroad’s congested Minneapolis terminal trackage and add them to the lower-cost, wide-open tracks west of Big Lake, making additional track capacity charges to extend service to St. Cloud unlikely. It will also enable the sale of at least two of the five NorthStar train sets to fund station improvements in the St. Cloud area and better bus-to-rail transfer service to/from remaining commuter rail stations.

Then, move management and operation of what will really be an intercity service to Amtrak. That would make it easier and cheaper to add service, remove the bus- and transit-oriented Met Council from the mix and, most notably, federalize the inevitable operating and capital subsidies.

Jerome Johnson, St. Paul


President Joe Biden hopefully will commit the U.S. to being a leader at the climate summit in Glasgow (“G-20 moves to weaken coal’s future,” front page, Nov. 1).

The feeling expressed by Johan Rockstrom and David Attenborough in the documentary “Breaking Boundaries” is that we are approaching a tipping point.

Drastic weather events worldwide have been a harbinger of far worse things to come. Australia’s recent summer from hell killed or harmed an estimated 3 billion animals. Scientist Terry Hughes is teary-eyed when he sees the Great Barrier Reef bleaching out. He adds that it is frustrating that climate scientists haven’t been listened to for decades.

Let’s follow the science. Rockstrom states clearly that the planet should “guide everything we do.”

Mike McDonald, St. Paul


There are environmentally friendly alternatives to polluting, gas-powered leaf blowers for clearing your lawn and driveway (“First thing we do, let’s turn off all the leaf blowers,” Opinion Exchange, Nov. 1). Two are simple devices invented centuries ago: the rake and the broom. Might even give you a little beneficial exercise.

Elaine K. Murray, Minneapolis

The writer is a retired professional gardener.


You may notice one sort of shrub that is still green late in the fall season around our city. This shrub is called buckthorn. Although it is illegal to import, sell or transport buckthorn in the state of Minnesota, I still see it in people’s lawns and on public land. By not taking action to remove it, you are indirectly transporting it throughout our region when birds and critters eat the berries from the female shrubs.

Buckthorn dominates the understory, which prevents our native trees and plants from growing. If no action is taken, what will your parks and woods look like in 30, 40 or 50 years? I implore my fellow neighbors to replace your buckthorn hedges with something native and for our city to remove buckthorn from our public lands. It can be wiped out completely but only in a collective community effort.

Dan Greenheck, St. Paul


How can it be? As one of the most influential people in the world, Pope Francis said not one word to President Joe Biden about the injustice of abortion at their recent meeting (“Pope to Biden: Keep taking communion,” Oct. 30). The pope has spent a lifetime rightly declaring that it’s wrong for a woman to end an unborn baby’s life; the pope has time and again emphasized that a woman cannot choose abortion as a way of avoiding the inconvenience of an unplanned pregnancy; the pope has clarified that a woman’s free choice is superseded by her unborn baby’s right to life. But then, in a 75-minute talk with the notoriously pro-choice (abortion’s OK) president of the United States, the pope decided to say not one single word of pro-life persuasion. Instead of reasserting the awful wrong in preserving one’s convenience by killing the unborn, the pope just smiled, shook hands and played nicey-nicey. Apparently, the pope didn’t want to ruffle the feathers of pro-choice people around the world, but what a colossal mistake! On an issue of this magnitude, the pope should have spoken out strongly and clearly. His pro-life words could have sent a powerful message to people everywhere. Though Catholic I am not, I say the pope should step down.

Donald E. Gerlach, Burnsville


Unbelievable! Pope Francis has labeled Biden a “good” Catholic and, according to reports, the issue of abortion never came up. As the moral leader of the Catholic church, it was the pope — not Biden — who had the obligation to raise the issue for discussion. I am also relieved to know that Biden is the role model I should follow to be a “good” Catholic and that the pope can make that judgment. Apparently, regular attendance at Sunday Mass is the standard. Guess my 16 years of Catholic education were for naught. I was taught that following the tenets of the church and the Ten Commandments and my behavior, actions and practices matter.

This was an opportunity for the pope to be a courageous global moral leader. Instead he saw it as a photo op. Is it any wonder that Catholicism is in shambles? Shame on Pope Francis.

W.W. Bednarczyk, Minneapolis


Last week’s paper had a letter from an Albert Lea, Minn., resident. Albert Lea is a beautiful, inviting city with five lakes and sits at the junction of two interstates. She suggests that urban dwellers consider moving to Albert Lea for a much better lifestyle, especially those who can now work from home.

She should be careful what she wishes for. The Wall Street Journal recently ranked Billings, Mont., as the No. 1 emerging housing market in the U.S. The average price of a single-family home in Billings jumped 32% from 2020 to 2021. For many folks who grew up in Montana, that increase results in a shortage of affordable housing. Billings is a very desirable city.

Albert Lea is similarly a very desirable town. I can understand the letter writer’s desire to share her hometown with others. Do not tell the Wall Street Journal what a great town Albert Lea is. It can be our little affordable secret.

Wayne Dokken, Robbinsdale

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