Commuter trains could be running on the Red Rock Corridor route through Washington County by 2018, commissioners were told Tuesday.

Propelled by a major new marketing push to build public awareness, Red Rock would operate between Hastings and St. Paul, with connections to Minneapolis. Planners also envision an eventual extension to Red Wing, in Goodhue County, via the Prairie Island Indian Community.

As the 30-mile Red Rock Corridor project gathers speed, it's become clear to planners that they need to get people on board.

Video interviews with workers and residents along the proposed route showed that most of them didn't recognize the Red Rock project even after years of government planning, Tom Dobbs, a Minneapolis urban design consultant, told Washington County commissioners.

Many of the people interviewed confused Red Rock with a bar and bowling alley by the same name in Newport, or a cafe by the same name in Hastings, said Darin Broton of the Bloomington public relations firm Tunheim Partners, which produced the video. About a fifth of the 25 people interviewed had heard of the rail corridor project, Broton said.

The southeastern commuter trains could share a track with a proposed fast train to Chicago that would run several times a day. A final route for the fast train, which would travel up to 110 miles per hour, will be decided this summer.

Red Rock already is a major route for freight trains and Amtrak's Empire Builder passenger train, but adding commuter trains to the route has led to a scramble in government circles. The 2018 start is "optimistic," said Andy Gitzlaff, who manages the project for Washington County, but he said the time has come to attach dates to critical mileposts.

On Monday, the Red Rock Corridor Commission asked the Legislature to approve bonding appropriations and general funding for the commuter rail line and high-speed rail route.

The commission requested $500,000 to build a new park and ride in downtown Hastings and wants $3.6 million to start commuter coach bus service for three years between Hastings and the Twin Cities.

Kevin Giles • 612-673-4432