The debate in Madison is just beginning to heat up concerning an alternate form of public transportation. Hailing from the Twin Cities, the most recent benefactor of a public train system, I thought it appropriate to throw in my two cents (or at least set them down on the train tracks).

In June 2004, the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro Transit opened its first light-rail line, which currently runs between three of the Twin Cities' most popular destinations: downtown Minneapolis, the airport and the Mall of America. The wildly successful line has served customers 11 million times over the first two-and-a-half years, nearly 65 percent higher than the initial projections. The line has also served the Twin Cities without diminishing the number of bus riders and has served the environment with its inherent energy-efficient design. But arguably the most striking effect of the new train system has been the way that the city's inhabitants have begun to view their own city, best stated by the headline of the St. Paul Pioneer Press on the light rail's opening day that read, "Now it feels like a real city!"

It's time for Madison to become a "real city." It's time for transportation on rails.

Whether you like the idea of a light rail better, or the trendy idea of a trolley car system, the city of Madison needs to take the lead for midsized metropolitan areas in the country by initiating a rail transportation system. Both the environment and our pocketbooks alike cannot take the beating much longer.

And face it, with continuing Middle East turmoil and a heavy reliance on foreign oil, the cost of gas isn't going down in the near future, no matter how unfair it is that a road trip across the country happens to be on your college to-do list. In fact, within the next five years, it is projected that oil prices will reach $100 dollars per barrel — high enough to even cancel road trip plans to Milwaukee.

According to a report released by the National Bicycling and Walking Interim, more than 60 percent of all trips nationwide are less than five miles, the same five miles in which 90 percent of all harmful gas emissions are released into the atmosphere. Let's see, what consistently travels about five miles without ever releasing any harmful gas emissions? Somewhere, a trolley bell is ringing like a contestant on Jeopardy anxiously buzzing in.

Not only would a rail transportation system set an environmental precedent, it would also boost the economy by providing the abundance of jobs that are necessary to complete any rail transportation system. The newly proposed rail connecting St. Paul and Minneapolis alone would create an estimated 7,150 housing units and 19 million square feet of commercial space with up to 68,000 jobs by the year 2020.

An easily accessible rail system would also greatly serve the more than 40,000 students who reside here, many of whom are without cars, having never experienced the joys of Willy Street or the many other pleasures Madison has to offer outside of the 10-block campus radius. In a city so young, environmental and economically sound transportation options are a must.

So if you couldn't stand Al Gore's two-hour, monotone power-point lecture that came out in theaters this summer, then listen to the president (I can't believe I just wrote those last four words) when he says, "America is addicted to oil." And the Nicorette patch for petroleum is a rail transportation system.

Mayor Cieslewicz, here is the community input you have requested about a possible trolley or light-rail system: Go for it.

Andy Granias ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science and international studies.