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Monday, December 15, 2008

High-speed rail proposal gains steam

From an article by Mark Sommerhauser in the La Crosse Tribune:

A proposal for high-speed rail service from Chicago to St. Paul - with stops in La Crosse and Winona, Minn. - is gaining new steam, buoyed by new federal interest in passenger rail and an aggressive push from St. Paul-area officials.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Ramsey County officials are engaging leaders in Winona and other Minnesota municipalities on Amtrak’s Empire Builder line, which they say could eventually be improved to carry high-speed trains if federal lawmakers fund the project as early as 2009. Coleman and others say overhauling the Empire Builder line would fast-track Minnesota’s best bid for high-speed rail, though the proposal may face questions from state officials and Rochester leaders who hope to be included on a new route.

A high-speed rail on the Empire Builder line, which runs from Chicago to La Crosse, and up the Mississippi River through St. Paul, was first proposed in a 2004 study by transportation departments in Minnesota and 10 other Midwest states. That study estimated an upfront cost of $1.86 billion to improve the line and proposed running five, 110-mph trains per day on the route.

Now, with Amtrak ridership climbing, President-elect Obama and other newly elected Democrats are discussing an ambitious, nationwide effort to fund high-speed rail, possibly as part of a stimulus package focused on infrastructure projects. The sudden prospect of federal support has put supporters in high gear: Mayor Jerry Miller confirmed he plans to meet with Coleman and Rep. Tim Walz, DFL-Minn., next week to discuss high-speed rail.

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