Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Minnesota rail plan foresees HSR, freight reroute

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Add Rochester, Minn., officials to the list of those seeking federal stimulus funding to advance high speed rail plans and, in the process, possibly reroute freight rail traffic. The plan is supported by a powerful local political force, the famed Mayo Clinic.

Plans for a $325 million, 48-mile “Southern Rail Corridor” would increase passenger trains speeds and frequency between the state’s Twin Cities and Chicago. The reroute would run south of Rochester west across Dodge County in southeastern Minnesota.

The Mayo Clinic wants a passenger rail link to assure ease of access for patients, but has feuded for years with operators of the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railway Co., now a subsidiary of Class I Canadian Pacific, seeking to reroute freight activity away from its location. Tracks currently pass within 100 feet of the clinic.

But the proposed bypass route has generated opposition of its own. One critic says the Rochester proposal is inferior to Amtrak’s existing service route, which roughly parallels the Mississippi River and is almost 50 miles shorter.

Amtrak’s long-distance Empire Builder is the sole passenger rail link at present between Minneapolis/St. Paul and Chicago; Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service offers more frequent trains between Chicago and Milwaukee.