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Study should settle question of high-speed rail route

A $600,000 federal planning grant will fund a study settling once and for all the route of a high-speed passenger rail line through southeastern Minnesota.

The grant, part of President Obama's $8 billion stimulus to develop high-speed rail nationwide, was announced Thursday.

The Chicago-to-Twin-Cities route will receive about $823 million. That includes $810 million to begin upgrading Wisconsin's Madison-to-Milwaukee segment of the route.

The $600,000 planning grant for the Madison-to-Twin-Cities segment will be matched by another $600,000 from the Wisconsin and Minnesota transportation departments.

The money will be used to perform an "alternatives analysis" of the possible routes, said Dan Krom, MnDOT's director of passenger rail.


Krom answered more questions about the road — or rails — ahead:

Q: When will this analysis begin and how long will it take?

A: We're waiting for formal announcement from USDOT. They're giving out $8 billion, and I think our $600,000 is a little bit low on the pipeline. We hope within a month of having the money available, getting a proposal out on the street. We hope we can get it (the work) done by the end of the summer.

Q: How many corridors do you intend to survive this process?

A: Right now, there's about nine alignments we have to look at. ... We want to get that down to three or four and then do the alternatives analysis on those three or four.

Q: Will there be a public element to this?

A: There's a federal requirement for public input, public involvement.

Q: How much of this analysis was already done last year in the state rail plan process?


A: That was done at a very high level. The state rail plan was more of an inventory of potential corridors and not the feasibility of a corridor. We looked at all the corridors in the state differently than we're going to now.

Q: Who's going to use this analysis when you're done?

A: We'll have to submit it to the (Federal Railroad Administration), and they'll approve it and then approve us moving forward with an environmental impact statement on the selected corridor — also the engineering and design work.

Q: The route selection — where is that decision being made?

A: That'll be done on a technical analysis basis. The final report will say ... "This is THE viable corridor."

Q: So this won't be a decision in a Congressional committee or on the floor of the Legislature?

A: Well, there's always the possibility that the politics will get involved, but the bottom line is the federal government has established a process that they want to be followed. ... That's the process we're following. The influence of Congress is pretty minimal.

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