The average freight train is about one to 1.25 miles in length (90 to 120 rail cars). When it's moving at 55 miles an hour, it can take a mile or more to stop after the locomotive engineer fully applies the emergency brake. An eight-car passenger train moving at 80 miles an hour needs about a mile to stop. In other words, it's a tough thing to stop once it gets going.
Lately, we've been hearing a lot about industry "freight trains" that are picking up momentum in our area and that might be difficult -- if not impossible -- to stop, no matter what the consequences.
A lot has been written lately about the proposed Enbridge Sandpiper pipeline that has the county's home- and landowners up in arms over one of the route alternatives that would take a portion of it through private farms and woodlands. A group of residents calling themselves Land Stewards of Carlton County has mounted a comprehensive effort to persuade Enbridge to act otherwise, but there is a mounting sense that it's going to be exceedingly difficult to stop the forward motion of a project that has already proceeded this far.
And then there's the case of the landowner who stepped forward at a recent meeting of the Cloquet City Council to object to the proposed location of a communications tower virtually in the back yard of a plot of land he purchased as his future homestead. Though the tower will serve the noble purpose of enhancing critical communications among area emergency services and, as such, will benefit many, its presence in a location where it will diminish the lifestyle and land value of an individual resident is sadly unfortunate.
Most recently, word came out that Minnesota Power is considering extending one of its high voltage power lines through this area of the state in order to increase capacity and improve reliability. Though no concrete route has yet been proposed, part of it is slated to run from the Iron Range to Duluth -- in other words, right through our backyard.
All of these projects have merit, and they are based on the increased demands and usage of the public -- which is, of course, us. But as pipelines, towers, power lines, mineral exploration and cell phone boosters continue to dot the landscape in increasing numbers, the big business supplying them should increasingly pay attention to the voice of the public they serve. It shouldn't be a case of becoming so big and so powerful that the little guy no longer counts.
Though it has been rumored that placing a penny on the rails of a railroad track will derail a train, experts have effectively quashed that rumor as impossible. And it is true -- one small and seemingly insignificant thing would have a hard time stopping the progress of something so big that is already in motion. But if the person in the driver's seat can be convinced there is good enough reason to put on the brakes, it's just possible that train might come to a stop after all.