High-speed rail line to Rochester on slow track

Thanks to the Rochester Post Bulletin, we’ve got a clearer picture of what a private firm is trying to accomplish with a proposed Twin Cities-to-Rochester high-speed rail link. It wants to extend all the way to Chicago.

Documents obtained by the PB, show the end game of the North American High Speed Rail Group is the line to Chicago, built with private money. How does it make money? By developing the real estate along the way.

The company is trying to get “exclusive” air rights from the Twin Cities to Rochester to build an elevated route. That apparently isn’t going very well and the newspaper says the company might turn to other parts of the country.

“We’re trying to get that first project to life and, honestly, we’d love to say it happened in Minnesota because we’re Minnesotans,” spokeswoman Wendy Meadley said.

Some politicians fret that they’re being left in the dark.

“It just seems to me, almost as a courtesy, that if this is real, they ought to at least tell us who they are and give us the assurance that they have the wherewithal to do this, and if they don’t have that wherewithal, why let’s just call a big timeout and be done with this,” Sen. Senjem, R-Rochester, said.

But even with the idea of a private company, an old dispute that’s blocked any progress on passenger rail to Chicago has surfaced again — should it run along the Mississippi River or go to Rochester first?

The idea of trying to connect the Twin Cities to Chicago via Rochester is likely to generate some concern among supporters of building a high-speed rail line along the “River Route,” which runs through Winona and Red Wing to the Twin Cities. Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission Chairwoman Janice Rettman said in an emailed statement that her organization has not been contacted by the rail group about their goal to extend service to Chicago via Rochester.

“The MN High Speed Rail Commission strongly advocates for the development of a high-speed rail line within the federally designated high-speed rail corridor that connects the Twin Cities to Milwaukee and Chicago,” said Rettman, a Ramsey County commissioner.

Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, said many residents in his district have a lot of anxiety about the rail group’s proposal, and he is disappointed by the lack of communication surrounding the proposal. He added the River Route has been designated by both MnDOT and the Federal Railroad Administration as the preferred line for a high-speed rail line to Chicago. He has introduced a bill that would require a high-speed rail line to Chicago be built in the river corridor.

The group says if the governor’s office had granted the exclusive air rights, the line could be running by 2023, when some people hope a world’s fair opens in Minnesota.