High-speed rail controversy on fast track in Madison

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

From a report by Joe Campana on Examiner.com:

A standing-room-only crowd showed up to a public meeting in Madison Tuesday evening to hear, "the train is coming." The first question was by high-speed and commuter train opponent, Bill Richardson, who asked, is this a done deal? He received an affirmative response from State of Wisconsin DOT representatives.

This preliminary public meeting, held in the Atrium Room of Olbrich Botanical Gardens, was organized by Alderperson Marsha Rummel. About 150 citizens attended. Rummel warned the public at the outset that the meeting was not part of the official public process and was intended to be a listening session. Mayor Dave Cieslewicz followed with brief remarks and his vision that the intercity high-speed rail linking Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and eventually the Twin Cities would be an economic boon to Madison by bringing people together in the new economy.

High-speed rail service is expected to begin in 2013 with six daily round trip trains that travel at 79 mph, less than what most consider high speed. Safety equipment will be available and upgraded by 2016 to allow up to 10 round trip trains daily at speeds of up to 110 mph.

The DOT officials reinforced Rummel's warning that the meeting was only an informational meeting and listening session. They reviewed the multiple opportunities for public input on issues associated with the rail corridor and the Monona Terrace rail station. They explained that in future public hearings the DOT will be soliciting public input on the local rail corridor with respect to landscaping, signage, signals, fencing, crossing and other subjects.

Nevertheless, the public criticized the lack of public input on the selection of Monona Terrace for the train station instead of the airport or other alternatives. Later, during the public Q&A, several members of the public criticized the government officials and representatives for not giving specific answers to questions, and at one point tempers flared.

One of the most vocal was Steve Randolph, known and respected for his quiet zone advocacy around the residential Main Street area freight train corridor, which will be converted to the high-speed rail line. Randolph's advocacy resulted in the Wisconsin and Southern whistle ban throughout Madison early last decade.

Randolph requested a Yes or No answer from the State DOT representatives regarding whether or not quiet zones are in jeopardy. He was given a No answer supplemented by "But . . ." by the DOT. The "But response" incited Randolph to continue to criticize the officials for their lack of definitive answers. Mayor Cieslewicz, who worked with Randolph on effecting quiet zones, approached Randolph and tried to help calm the discussion, however, Randolph continued the diatribe over the lack of answers.

One member of the audience standing in the back of the room had been taunting citizen speakers during the second hour of the meeting by disruptively shouting at the top of his lungs, "Speak into the microphone." Disturbed over Randolph's rant, he shouted at Randolph, "Sit down and shut up and give other people a chance." Randolph stormed from the podium to the heckler at back of the room and face-in-face shouted , if you don't like it, you can leave, and shove it. For a moment it appeared there was going to be an altercation, however, Randolph left the room. Afterwards, at least one speaker acknowledged that Randolph affected the peacefulness of their neighborhood through his quiet zone advocacy over the last decade.

The overwhelming majority of the public spoke of concerns over bringing high-speed rail downtown, and few spoke in support of the high-speed rail project and the choice of Monona Terrace as the train station. There was loud applause from the audience especially after each citizen speaker posed his or her objections to the government panel.