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MnDOT selects Mississippi route for high-speed rail

Potential high-speed rail route along the Mississippi River.


RED WING — The Minnesota Department of Transportation has determined the existing Amtrak route along the Mississippi River is the preferred route for a high-speed rail line connecting the Twin Cities to Chicago.

The news is disappointing to proponents of high speed rail in Rochester who have been pushing hard to have the city included on a high-speed rail line from the Twin Cities to Chicago.

Winona Mayor Jerry Miller, chairman of the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission, praised the news.

"High-speed rail through places like Winona, Red Wing and St Paul will improve freight rail capacity, which will help Minnesota farmers and manufacturers get their products to market. It will also serve as an efficient link for Minnesota residents to connect to Chicago, Milwaukee, and all points in-between," Miller said in a released statement.


The discussion has been underway for nearly a decade, propelled by a 2003 MnDOT study that projects a connection between the Twin Cities and Chicago would spur $2.3 billion in economic development along that route. It's picked up steam in recent years as the Obama administration has created a goal that 80 percent of Americans have high-speed rail access by 2035.

The proposed river route would take advantage of existing infrastructure along much of the route, which Rogers says could help the project be completed within about five years. The route would include stops in Red Wing, Winona, La Crosse and Madison before linking up to an already-approved project that will connect Milwaukee and Chicago.

"For the community of Red Wing, this is a big deal," Red Wing councilman Mike Schultz said.

Minnesota High Speed Rail Commission Executive Director Michael Rogers characterized the river route as being an "intermediate service," which differentiates it from the Rochester route. Trains using the Mississippi River route would travel between 90-110 mph, cutting the trip from the Twin Cities to Chicago from eight hours to about 5.5 hours. Six round-trip trains would operate daily under that plan.

The proposed trains that would travel between the Twin Cities and Rochester would be more of a true high-speed rail, Rogers said, traveling more than 180 mph. However, that plan may take up to two decades to become operational, beginning with an environmental review process that could take up to three years to complete, according to Rogers.

Rogers hopes that the creation of the river route could have a positive impact on those seeking a similar project for Rochester.

"Once you start to build the ridership, it makes the true high-speed rail more justifiable," he said. "It's definitely not an 'us or them' thing."

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