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Rail News: High-Speed Rail

Minnesota DOT continues plan for Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago HSR corridor


Despite Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's decision to send back $810 million in federal stimulus funds for a proposed high-speed rail (HSR) connection between Milwaukee and Madison, Wis., Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) officials are still plugging along with their plan for a Twin Cities-to-Milwaukee-to-Chicago corridor.

"I keep telling everyone our [HSR] program isn't dead," says Dan Krom, director of MnDOT's Passenger Rail Office.

The federal dollars that Wisconsin turned back late last year would have funded extending Amtrak's Chicago-to-Milwaukee corridor to Madison.

"The funding decision affects one, 70-mile segment out of 14 different alignments between Milwaukee and the Twin Cities," Krom says. "The fact that it's not funded did not kill our program."

Minnesota's HSR program is in the early planning stages. Intercity and interstate rail corridors take many years to develop, so to stop the planning now "would be short-sighted" — especially if there will be more federal funding on the table, says Krom, referring to the Obama Administration’s recently announced proposal to invest $53 billion to build a nationwide HSR network.

Also, Minnesota's new Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, is supportive of MnDOT continuing HSR planning, Krom says.

For now, Minnesota is moving ahead with a Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Milwaukee-to-Twin Cities line in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), he says.

The $1.2 million EIS will be funded through a $600,000 High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail program stimulus grant that will be matched with $300,000 each from the Minnesota and Wisconsin DOTs —“and for now, Wisconsin remains a study funding partner,” he added.

A national consulting firm — one of five to respond to MnDOT's request for proposals sent out last year — has been selected to conduct the study, but Krom declined to identify the firm because state officials haven't yet completed the contract negotiations.

Because the FRA has designated the Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago route as an HSR corridor, MnDOT officials have not discussed with other Midwest states, such as Iowa, about developing a corridor that would go around Wisconsin, Krom says.

Also, MnDOT officials remain interested in Amtrak potentially expanding its long-distance Empire Builder service, which runs between Milwaukee and the Twin Cities.

"Amtrak has a long-term plan, which calls for a second train to Seattle," Krom says. "We’re meeting with them to see what the status is and if there is potential for speeding up that plan."

— Julie Sneider

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 2/11/2011