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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Minnesota high-speed route to Chicago may take year to map

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Mapping the route of a proposed high-speed passenger train between the Twin Cities and Chicago will take a year or more, a Minnesota transportation official said, according to local newspapers. Dan Krom, who made a presentation to Washington County commissioners, said as many as eight routes are under study. One of them, which the commissioners favor, would follow the existing Amtrak route, known in planning circles as Red Rock, through southern Washington County and eastern Dakota County.

Another possible route would pass through Eau Claire, Wis., and follow the I-94 corridor into the Twin Cities, said Krom, director of the passenger rail office at MnDOT. The I-94 corridor is being studied by Washington County as a potential transit byway that could include, among other means of travel, buses or light-rail trains running to St. Paul from a transportation hub in northeast Woodbury.

Krom's presentation summed up Minnesota's new statewide freight and passenger rail plan that's expected to ease some of the growing friction among competing interests over where new rail lines should be placed.

Rochester legislators and business leaders pressed earlier this year for a high-speed rail link with Chicago to include their city. Krom told the Washington County commissioners that the statewide plan acknowledges the importance of including Rochester in a rail network, but said building such a corridor would take time.

"It will take a good portion of a decade if not more to develop that corridor," he said.

The plan also will consider the importance of some day linking Minnesota's regional centers, such as Mankato, Willmar and St. Cloud, to the Twin Cities and one another, Krom said.

Another challenge is finding a way for passenger rail to co-exist with freight trains on the same tracks, he said.

"It's like moving into somebody's house, remodeling it, and we have to live with them," he said.

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