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Mapping the route of a proposed high-speed commuter train between the Twin Cities and Chicago will take a year or more, a Minnesota transportation official said Tuesday.
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 will 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 someday 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.
True high-speed rail that travels faster than 110 mph, he said, would require significant changes, including electrified corridors, elimination of grade crossings and passenger train-only tracks, he said.
Although passenger trains vary in speed, capacity and distance, the plan envisions that a mixture of them someday would relieve growing traffic on roads, Krom said.
The Northstar commuter rail opened this fall from Minneapolis north to Big Lake, Minn., and a forthcoming light-rail route will link Minneapolis with St. Paul. Union Depot in St. Paul will be remodeled to become a major hub for all types of transit, including the interstate Amtrak trains from Chicago to Seattle and Portland.
How much of the network will be built depends on state and federal funding and cooperation among competing interest groups, Krom said. The United States, he said, isn't accustomed to spending money on trains compared with some foreign countries, he said.
"We've got a lot of catching up to do," he said.
Kevin Giles • 612-673-4432