Trying to figure out what kind of duck this quacks like!

In STrib: Suburbs skeptical of speedy Zip Rail

I get nervous where there’s something big proposed, but not much in the way of info.  I do care who owns and will own the project, where the money’s coming from (more massive subsidies of Rochester/Mayo?), potential isolation of people suddenly blocked off from their access roads, and no stops along the way so affected communities receive no benefit.  I think I’d prefer light rail, but ???  Need to know more.

The format of these meetings prevents you from asking important questions, speaking your mind, and making comments publicly so that we can share information and questions.  Public opinion is silenced. This is a NEPA process, MN EQB noticed, and should have a formal public hearing.

Comments due by August  6, 2014.  Send comments to:


MN DOT Passenger Rail Office ATTN: Zip Rail
395 John Ireland Boulevard, MS 470
St. Paul, MN 55155

Note there is an EXISTING COMMUTER BUS SYSTEM, serving many locations, which a “Zip Rail” would not.  Zip Rail would only serve 2-3 locations in the Metro.

What I do see is they’re trying hard to line everything up, here’s from a meeting with Secretary Ray La Hood (just to L of flag):


Now to start, full disclosure, I don’t really have a dog in this fight, and don’t know much about it, so I’ve started looking because this week are the scoping meetings on “Round 1” of the environmental review.  Tonight was Rochester:

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rochester Community and Technical College

Inver Grove Heights
Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Inver Grove Community Center

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Kenyon-Wanamingo High School

All meetings 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm

Hey, Chuck Michael, long time since the Mesaba Project!!!

I’ve been hearing a lot about the “Zip Rail” through southern Minnesota, between the Metro and Rochester.  But when I look, I don’t see much.  This was selected as part of a “Midwest Corridor linking Chicago, IL with Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, Detroit, MI, St. Louis, MO, Indianapolis, IN, and the Quad Cities, IL/IA.”  We know our friend Scott Walker tanked it in Wisconsin, but Walker is not a permanent fixture so that could change.

My gut says that it’d be a lot easier to justify a Metro – Chicago train than Metro – Rochester.  Maybe it’s a step, but ???  As a stand-alone, it’s hard to get worked up about, considering what I imagine the impacts would be.

The most detailed report I’ve found so far is:

Economic Impacts of High Speed Rail (2011)

This is from Midwest High Speed Rail Assn.  There’s a lot on this site, like a Minnesota projects page.  One I didn’t know about, the Red Rock Corridor, from Hastings to St. Paul (which may have switched to a pus project).

Here’s the official Minnesota Zip Rail site, and there’s not as much:

Here’s their “documents” page thus far for the Zip Line:

Title Document Type Date Format File Size
Zip Rail Open House Flyer Public Meeting Materials Jul 16, 2014 icon 132 KB
Newsletter – July 2014 Newsletters Jul 07, 2014 icon 885 KB
Technical Advisory Committee Meeting No. 4 Other Jul 07, 2014 icon 5 MB
Zip Rail Scoping Package Reports Jul 07, 2014 icon 7 MB
Technical Advisory Committee Meeting No.3 Reports Oct 17, 2013 icon 3 MB
Draft Purpose and Need Statement Reports Oct 07, 2013 icon 634 KB
Public Involvement Plan Reports Jun 01, 2013 icon 4 MB
Notice of Intent Reports May 13, 2013 icon 28 KB
Technical Advisory Committee Meeting No.2 Reports Apr 04, 2013 icon 1 MB
Technical Advisory Committee Meeting No.1 Reports Feb 28, 2013 icon 1 MB

There’s some reading to do.  But there are a few questions that are jumping out at me:

  • Ridership numbers – was the modeling done pre-economic crash?
  • What’s the ridership demographics?
  • What’s the cost – Alan said to figure $100 million/mile — is that accurate?
  • Who benefits from this, geographically, and specifically (is this for Mayo?  I have a hard time imagining sick people on the train.  I’d guess they’d fly in or take a limo.)
  • It’s supposed to be electric — above train or part of the track below (meaning lower profile?)
  • How will it sit on the land — in trench, or above ground, and how will it be fenced in/walled off?
  • What are predicted operating expenses?
  • Ownership is “flexible.”  The DOT now owns it but that could change, it could be federal, state, private, and/or a combo, and if so, what is impact on land acquisition if a private project?

So there’s a little to think about before the meetings tomorrow and Thursday evening!  Be there or be square!

Found in Finance & Commerce:

Zip Rail backers hope to lure private funder

By: Cali Owings June 5, 2014 3:03 pm 0

Passenger rail planners are narrowing down about 15 potential routes for a high-speed train between Rochester and the Twin Cities, aiming to capture the most riders and potentially pique the interest of a private funder.

The proposed train, known as the Zip Rail, would likely originate in downtown Rochester at the northwest quadrant of North Broadway and Civic Center Drive – blocks from the Mayo Clinic campus and the Mayo Civic Center that just received $35 million in state bonding for an expansion.

But planners are still weighing options for where the trains will go when they arrive in the Twin Cities – the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, St. Paul’s renovated Union Depot or both.

Though the recently completely Target Field Station in Minneapolis could serve passenger rail, it’s not under consideration at this point because it would be too difficult to bring trains through fully built-out parts of Minneapolis, according to Dan Krom, a project manager with the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s passenger rail division. He said the project aims to take as little right of way as possible.

The airport and Union Depot connections would serve one of the line’s core ridership groups – a portion of Rochester’s 3 million annual visitors, said Chuck Michael, project manager for the Olmsted County Regional Railroad Authority. Planners also are focusing on daily commuters, whose ranks are expected to grow as the $5.5 billion Destination Medical Center redevelopment around the Mayo Clinic gets underway, and on travelers from Rochester who would normally drive to catch a flight at MSP.

Understanding travel patterns and target ridership for the train will help market it to potential private partners, Michael said. Advocates hope to demonstrate that the baseline ridership could pay for the train’s operating costs and eventually generate income. The capital cost to build the train has been estimated at $1 billion.

“We think there’s a great potential on the private side,” he said.

In Texas, a privately held railway company’s plans to build a 200-mph bullet train from Dallas to Houston are gaining momentum. The Texas Central Railway is partnering with JR Central, the company behind Japan’s famed high-speed rail between Tokyo and Osaka that carries 391,000 passengers daily, to bring a similar model to life there.

The train would make the trip in about 90 minutes compared to a four-hour drive on oft-congested Interstate 45. Nearly 50,000 Texans travel between the two cities more than once a week on I-45, according to a statement from Houston Mayor Annise Parker. The commute is projected to take closer to seven hours by 2035.

Ordinarily building a high-speed train from a city the size of Rochester wouldn’t make sense, but the number of people already going back and forth to the Twin Cities is unusual and could support the investment, Michael said. The Zip Rail would travel between the two economic centers at 180 to 220 mph, completing the trip in about half the time it takes to drive.

Securing private partners could help move the project forward at a quicker pace, Krom said.

Federal dollars are highly competitive, and MnDOT isn’t able to leverage gas tax revenue for rail projects. So far, about $2.3 million in state and rail authority funding have been used for Zip Rail studies, Krom said.

The Rochester train is among three passenger rail lines currently under study through MnDOT, including the Northern Lights Express between the Twin Cities and Duluth and a high-speed passenger rail to Milwaukee and Chicago.

“If we were able to get a corridor done, then people can see what it can do,” Krom said.

Even with a private backer, it will be awhile before the trains roll. After the current Zip Rail study finishes up around the first quarter of 2015, the project’s sponsors will identify a handful of routes to take into another round of environmental analysis and identify a preferred alternative, Krom said. The corridor could be under study for the next five years.

As Rochester and the Mayo campus continue to grow, so will momentum for the project, Michael said. The existing amount of commuters and visitors are already a strain on the city’s parking and the Destination Medical Center is projected to create 35,000 jobs in the next 20 years.

“The need is just much greater now,” Michael said. “We really need that transportation connection.”

Correction: The original version of this story misstated how fast the Zip Rail would travel between Rochester and the Twin Cities. The story has been updated with the correct miles per hour.

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