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Monday, November 30, 2009

Minnesota report says $5 billion needed for freight rail upgrades

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The nearly completed Minnesota Comprehensive Statewide Freight and Passenger Rail Plan reports that more than $5 billion will be needed to maintain the state's freight rail system at an average level. However, the report says the maintenance is not optional because the rail system "supports economic development, enhances environmental sustainability, helps to preserve the publicly-owned roadway infrastructure and increases the business marketability of the state."

The plan looks at big and small railroad lines and evaluated the condition of their track, trestles, signal system and more.

The report's goals include all lines operating at speeds of at least 25 mph, with rail and bridges capable of handling 286,000-pound cars, which brings the total bill to $5.1 billion. If all lines were capable of meeting freight needs and high-priority passenger service, the total raises to $11.3 billion.

One large project is the 23-mile branch line connecting Montgomery and New Prague to UP's Mankato line, which has 13 bridges that are not capable of handling the weight of modern rail cars and needs $10.4 million in upgrades.

The UP line between Mankato and the Twin Cities needs an estimated $450 million including a new $44 million bridge over the Mississippi River at Mendota Heights and $163 million for a Shakopee bypass in improve train speeds.

Also included in the report are upgrades that are underway, such as the more than $77 million in upgrades on the DM&E to bridges and track along a 98-mile section in the south-central part of the state.