Monday, July 20, 2009

Walz puts in support for railroad bypass plan

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U.S. Rep. Tim Walz is "incredibly pleased to support" a Rochester, Minn., railroad bypass proposal, he told a group of business leaders, the Rochester Post-Bulletin reports.

"We think this project ... borders on a project of national interest, of national priority," said the DFL representative for Minnesota's 1st District. "That's because you've elevated it to that."

Rochester has proposed a 48-mile bypass of the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad main line. As currently drawn, the bypass would circle the city's south side, starting from the main line near Dover and rejoining it near Dodge Center. It would connect to the Rochester International Airport.

The route, named the Southern Rail Corridor, is intended to serve as a route both for freight and passenger trains, officials said. Walz spoke in front of a poster depicting a blue-and-yellow DM&E train and bullet-style passenger train traveling side-by-side.

Walz, a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, is seeking $260 million for the project in the federal Transportation Reauthorization Bill. He said the line could be developed within about seven years -- "2016 is the goal, if things move along as we would like to see."

Officials have estimated it will cost $325 million to initially develop the bypass for freight trains. Adding a separate passenger line later would cost considerably more.

The project is intended to address two needs of Mayo Clinic: moving potentially dangerous freight train traffic away from the heart of the medical campus, and adding Rochester to a passenger train route linking the Twin Cities to Chicago. The region's economy depends on Mayo Clinic's continued presence and growth, officials said.

Walz listed key allies in favor of the bypass. U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, "is in daily contact with our office and the folks involved with this to try and make this happen," Walz said. Oberstar is a Democrat from Chisholm, Minn.

Fred Green, president of Canadian Pacific Railway, which owns DM&E, "has been in my office multiple times," Walz said. Green "understands the importance of this, and does not discredit the need for making this work," Walz said.
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