BAXTER - The idea of increased rail service in Minnesota, both freight and passenger, is gaining steam.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation, acting on a legislative mandate and Gov. Tim Pawlenty's directives, has spent the last nine months developing a comprehensive rail plan for the state. The hope is to receive federal funding for the plan, as well as partner with public and private entities for the plan's development.
"Minnesota should develop a robust intrastate and interstate system that connects Minnesota to itself and the rest of country," said Dan Krom, MnDOT Passenger Rail Director and rail plan co-project manager, in St. Paul.
On Wednesday, Krom and other MnDOT officials in St. Paul gave a teleconference presentation on the plan and took public testimony from MnDOT districts across the state, including at the District 3 office in Baxter.
For passenger rail service, the first part of the plan is service between the Twin Cities and Chicago. After that, the plan calls for high-speed service between the Twin Cities and Duluth and Rochester and enhanced conventional passenger service between the Twin Cities and St. Cloud, Mankato, Fargo and Eau Claire, Wis.
For freight service in Minnesota, it means expanding the eighth largest system in the country to accommodate future growth.
The total result is an estimated $6.2-$9.5 billion capital investment by 2030.
"Rail is really the key component of the overall transportation system," said Bill Gardner, MnDOT freight transportation planning director and rail plan co-project manager. "The system needs to be able expand to accommodate increased (freight) demand and the introduction of passenger rail services."
As it stands, the plan includes no new passenger service for the Brainerd area. Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, speaking during the public testimony portion of Wednesday's teleconference, said he hoped that changed.
"We in Brainerd's (House) District area would like be able to participate in the passenger rail plan because we have existing rail here," Ward said.
A man giving testimony in St. Cloud said the Northstar Commuter Rail, which currently runs from the Twin Cities to Big Lake, should be extended to Camp Ripley to accommodate an evacuation from the metro area because of a natural or man-made disaster.
"It would be helpful if the train comes to Rice and keeps going and not stopping until it hits Brainerd, or at least Camp Ripley," the man said.
The only other person to give testimony here was Baxter resident John Sullivan, who said it was important to get people to their destinations not just from station to station, get passenger rail service to airports and expand rail to create more direction connections throughout the country.
"Something better needs to be figured out," Sullivan said. "I look at what has already been done bringing service to Big Lake and hopefully in the future to St. Cloud and Rice as means to getting into the metro area without having to drive there all time."
The rail plan can be viewed at StateRailPlan@dot.state.mn.us. Public comments can be submitted up to 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 29 by e-mail at StateRailPlan@dot.state.mn.us; by fax at (651) 366-4248; by phone at (651) 366-3199; or by mail to Minnesota Department of Transportation, Office of Passenger Rail, Mail Stop 480, 395 John Ireland Blvd., St. Paul, MN, 55155.
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.
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