High-speed passenger rail

Jeff Robison

You know how the river route from St. Paul to La Crosse, Wis., was supposed to be a sure thing in the federal sweepstakes for a high-speed passenger rail? Using existing tracks along the river, we were told, would expedite the project and minimize cost. Wrong. Turns out the river route has flaws galore. A surprising need to increase capacity for passenger trains would cost $834 million. The curvaceous alignment would hold speeds under 90 mph. Heavy freight traffic would interfere with the frequency and reliability of passenger service. Canadian Pacific Railway, which owns the corridor, could charge passenger trains significant access fees. Sounds a lot like the slow, undependable, surviving-on-federal-subsidies Amtrak service âÄî not a streamlined, transformational system for future generations. Betting on the river route, the Minnesota segment of a high-speed line from the Twin Cities to Chicago, âÄúwould be relegated to a second- or third-tier status in the race for highly competitive federal funding,âÄù says the Tri-State III study. Fortunately, Minnesota has a better alternative: a route from St. Paul to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport to Apple Valley-Rosemount to Rochester to La Crosse. It would serve more Minnesotans, be capable of 220 mph rail service, and pay for itself. The Federal Railroad Administration plans to evaluate projects on their operating ratio and cost-benefit ratio. If Minnesota hopes to grab a share of the pot, we need to make a good business decision and go with the route that will perform best. Jeff Robison University alumnus