Friday, January 08, 2010

Minn. releases statewide rail plan

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Increasing travel options, improving access to goods and services and keeping the state competitive are some of the objectives of the 2009 Minnesota Comprehensive Statewide Freight and Passenger Rail Plan by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

The rail plan, mandated by the 2008 Minnesota legislature and still in draft form, is the first step in obtaining federal funding for construction of lines within Minnesota and the region that tie into an emerging national rail system, according to Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel.

"A priority in the plan is intercity passenger rail service between Chicago and the Twin Cities," Commissioner Sorel said. "While the corridors for the project have yet to be determined the connection would support development and economic competitiveness of the Midwest and provide an alternative to automobile and air travel."

In addition to service between Chicago and the Twin Cities, the plan also includes high-speed connections for Duluth and Rochester to the Twin Cities, in cooperation with the Mid-West Regional Rail Initiative.

The report also envisions additional passenger rail services to St. Cloud, Moorhead, Mankato and Eau Claire. Other corridors identified for future development beyond 2030 or as part of national system expansion include Albert Lea, Willmar and Winnipeg.

"This plan recommends that the rail system be developed incrementally with a goal of implementing key passenger services and preparing projects for federal funding as it becomes available," Commissioner Sorel said.

The plan estimates freight and passenger rail 20-year capital costs at $6.2 to $9.5 billion (uninflated). This total assumes $2.2 to $4.4 billion of private investment for freight improvements, and $4.0 to $5.1 billion in federal, state, local and additional private investments for passenger rail development. Mn/DOT officials said that the state rail plan cost estimates are based on high-level, system-wide unit costs, not detailed engineering costs being developed for specific corridors.

The document is now available for public review and comment on Mn/DOT's Website at http://www.dot.state.mn.us/planning/railplan/. Mn/DOT will accept comments on the plan through Friday, Jan. 29, 2010.

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