The Olmsted County Regional Railroad Authority (OCRRA), in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), is continuing the evaluation of a high-speed passenger rail connection between Rochester and the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area.
In February 2010, MnDOT published its Comprehensive Statewide Freight and Passenger Rail Plan, which determined that the option for a high-capacity, high-speed rail transportation system is not only desirable, but affordable and even preferred as fuel prices rise and larger volumes of travelers shift to an available rail system.
The State Rail Plan concluded that the Rochester to Twin Cities route was a Priority 1 Corridor, worthy of continued study and evaluation based on its economic and technical viability.
The Business Case for High Speed Rail
Preliminary feasibility studies prepared by MnDOT and others have indicated that a Rochester to Twin Cities high-speed passenger rail system appears both economically and technically viable. To continue these studies, continued funding through MnDOT has been received.
Olmsted County is preparing a methodical, well-planned approach to a high-speed passenger rail program that will provide significant long-term benefits to the Region and the State. This project is indeed a bold initiative, but with public determination and support, we can develop a cost-effective, sustainable high-speed passenger rail system that will serve generations to come.
The FRA has developed a detailed, prescriptive process for evaluating the feasibility, cost basis and benefits of high-speed rail programs. Olmsted County and MnDOT are committed to conducting the analysis of the Rochester-Twin Cities Passenger Rail Corridor Investment Plan in an open and transparent public process.
Upcoming Passenger Rail Work
In Spring 2012, OCRRA began a series of tasks working closely with MnDOT and FRA to further define the passenger rail program. This work included evaluation of potential routes between Rochester and the Twin Cities, evaluation of possible station locations along the route, ridership studies, capital and operating cost estimates, and initial high-level environmental studies.
To conduct these evaluations, in September 2012, OCRRA retained a qualified transportation engineering and environmental firm with experience in high speed rail programs. During the course of these studies, several opportunities for public input and comment. Project financing alternatives were evaluated including significant financial participation by the private sector through a public/private partnership.
Freight Rail Program
Freight Rail Feasibility and Alternatives Analysis
On December 16, 2009, Congress directed funds under the Rail Line Relocation and Improvement program for the Southern Rail Corridor project. The Southern Rail Corridor (SRC) is a freight rail relocation project proposed by the Olmsted County Regional Railroad Authority (OCRRA) to evaluate the potential to relocate an existing Canadian Pacific/Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern freight rail line around the City of Rochester, Minnesota, to accommodate a potential increase in train traffic and address safety concerns associated with the current route through the city’s downtown. MnDOT has been designated as the grantee of these funds.
Originally constructed by the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad in the 1860’s, the rail line traveling through Rochester is now operated by the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad (DM&E), a fully owned subsidiary of the Canadian Pacific Railway system (CP). The line is presently a freight-only route hosting an average of three trains per day on a single track, with all in-town road crossings at grade. The route has a limited number of customers adjacent to or in the City of Rochester. Passenger service, until its discontinuance in 1963, was part of a major passenger route for the railroad and offered direct access to the Mayo Clinic.
In February 1998, the DM&E filed an application with the Federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) to construct and operate 281 miles of rail line into the Powder River Basin (PRB) coalfields of Wyoming and to significantly upgrade its existing rail line from South Dakota to Minnesota City, Minnesota. It received Federal approval in 2002. A primary route from the Wyoming coal mines to the eastern coal markets runs through the center of Rochester, Minnesota. This was projected to generate as many as 30, one mile-long loaded and empty unit coal trains/day through Rochester on the current route. Operation of the DM&E rail line, and the coal train project, has over time raised various safety and security concerns with the residents of Rochester due to its proximity to residential, commercial and medical facilities.
Ongoing concerns and interest prompted a partnership of the OCRRA, City of Rochester, Mayo Clinic and Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce to explore the concept of future feasible route alternatives, which included the commissioning of studies delineating regional issues, a high level assessment of the current route, conceptual development for a proposed Southern Rail Corridor (SRC) bypass and a round of open houses. The findings of these studies provided the technical foundation for requesting federal funding assistance for the Southern Rail Corridor Feasibility and Alternatives Analysis.
In April 2012, MnDOT selected a consultant to conduct the Southern Rail Corridor Feasibility and Alternatives Analysis. Work began in May 2012, and is scheduled to conclude by April 2013.