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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

High-speed rail decision months behind schedule

From an article by Dustin Kass of the Winona (MN) Daily News:

WINONA, Minn. - Funding for a high-speed rail line in Minnesota is in jeopardy after federal delays have put the project months behind schedule.

A route for high-speed rail service between Madison and the Twin Cities likely will not be selected until this winter, nearly half a year after originally estimated, Minnesota Department of Transportation officials say. The delay could torpedo the chances of the project receiving federal funding - and of cities such as La Crosse or Winona gaining the economic boost the service would bring.

"The longer we delay, in my view, the less chance you get any money," Winona Mayor Jerry Miller said.

MnDOT received a $600,000 federal planning grant in January to cover half the cost of a preliminary study examining possible routes between Madison and the Twin Cities. But officials have not even started the study because they are waiting on Federal Railroad Administration officials to review the results of a separate Midwest regional study completed in 2004, said Dan Krom, director of the MnDOT office of Passenger Rail.

Officials are considering lines that would run through Eau Claire or La Crosse, with the second route passing through either Winona or Rochester, Minn. Winona leaders have banded with representatives from municipalities along the Mississippi River to form the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission and advocate for the line to follow an existing train route along the river. Miller is the commission's chairman.

Krom attributed the FRA delays to the burden the agency faces as it administers $8 billion in high-speed rail projects awarded in January. FRA officials did not respond to a call for comment on this story.

The Madison-to-Twin Cities study now will likely start in September, Krom said, with a

preferred route indicated "by the end of they year." The full study isn't expected to be finished until September 2011.

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