Next Stop, Rochester
Rail consultants RL Banks released a study this spring that found that a Twin Cities-to-Rochester high-speed rail line would pay for itself in economic benefits to Olmsted County and the state, provide thousands of jobs, and cover all operating costs once built. The project became separate once Twin Cities-to-Chicago corridor planning bypassed Rochester.
Rochester and the Twin Cities have never been connected by a dedicated rail link, not even a freight line, says Dan Krom, director of MnDOT’s passenger rail office. Thus a high-speed startup need not incorporate existing right-of-ways and their limitations, as is the case with planned lower-speed lines to Chicago and Duluth.
Zip Rail, as the Rochester project is being called, would be a new-build, electrified, European-style train that would operate 10 daily round trips with a capacity of 3,000 passengers a day. Travel time would be less than an hour.
“The faster you go, the more people ride, and the closer it gets to paying for itself,” says Krom. He called the Banks study’s assumptions “not far-fetched” but admitted the $1 billion effort will require “political will” that may not exist. Minnesota missed out on $800 million in federal funds early in the Obama administration because “we had not done the studying and planning” that Wisconsin and Illinois had done, he says.
The Banks study and other work MnDOT’s rail office has underway is designed to put the state in a position to be a future recipient of federal funds and prime the debate at the Capitol.