Thursday, April 16, 2009

Obama Outlines Rail Initiative, Pawlenty Signs Funding Request

President Obama outlined his new inter-city rail plan today, citing ten planned corridors of 110 MPH plus passenger rail service to be developed. Among those was the Minneapolis to Chicago route. The Department of Transportation stated separately that they considered the Minneapolis to Chicago route to be on their "short list" of six lines likely to get a share of the $8 billion in federal stimulus dollars appropriated directly for high speed rail. Distribution of these funds would begin this coming August.

Govenor Pawlenty also signed a funding request by midwestern govenors outlining their preference for the funding priority of individual lines in the Midwest High Speed Rail Initiative. The document, signed by the govenors of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio, and Michigan, proposes that the first phase of the network include three lines: one from Chicago to Detroit, another from Chicago to St. Louis, and a third from Chicago to Madison. The extension from Madison to Minneapolis would be part of a second phase of the initiative. The first phase could be operating as early as 2014.

It's kind of disconcerting to hear the Pawlenty isn't fighting for our state by allowing us to slip into the second phase. I mean, St. Louis over Minneapolis? Really? Who knows when that second phase might happen, and it certainly won't be as easy as this first one is with all of that stimulus money floating around right now. It is good to hear that the line is on the DOT's "short list" of funding priorities. I can't help but think that the line only extending to Madison puts it last in the list of the three first phase lines for the MHSRI, which could become a major problem if funding comes down to the wire. Hopefully they'll get that Madison line up and running by 2014, and we won't be too far behind.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

MPR and Met Council Reach Deal, Hiawatha Platform Extentions Project Begins, and More!


I know I'm a little late posting this, but as you've all (hopefully) read by now, MPR and the Met Council reached an agreement on the Central Corridor. As part of the agreement a crossover (place where trains can switch tracks) will be relocated away from the MPR studios and the section of track will be set on a large slab of concrete which will float on a giant rubber pad. Hopefully the relocation of the crossover will cut down on noise and the rubber floats will cut down on vibrations.

Success! Hopefully the project can be approved by the end of this summer.

In other Central Corridor news, a new debate has arisen regarding the creation of a free fare zone at the U of M. The University wants to create a free fare zone between the west bank station, east bank station, and the stadium village station. Apparently this would effect the current ridership predictions. As originally planned, the stations would all be constructed to support three-car trains, but only enough cars would be bought to operate two-car trains. This was mandated by the FTA because predicted ridership was shown to be at the very maximum permitted for two-car trains, and apparently the free fare zone pushes this up over the limit, requring an additional 16 cars to be purchased.
Luckily for us, the free fare zone would not be considered by the FTA to be intergral to the line, but rather an enhancement, so this cost increase wouldn't effect the CEI (cost effectiveness index, the system used to rank one project against another while lining up for federal funding) of the project. Construction will be allowed to begin without this issue being resovled, and hopefully the free fare zone will be okay in the end if the county transit tax board comes up with the funds for the new cars.

Construction Updates!

Work began earlier this month on strengthening the Washington Avenue bridge s othat it can handle the weight of the trains travelling over it.

Construction began yesterday on the Hiawatha line's new three-car platform project. This project will be completed in March 2010 and will allow all 18 of the Hiawatha Line's stations to accomodate three-car trains, as well as purchase said trains. Seven of the original 17 stations were built to accomodate these long trains, while ten of them are being extended by this project. The new station at Target Field was built to fit three cars.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Pawlenty Commissions New Statewide Rail Transit Study

The Strib reported today that Gov. Pawlenty has commissioned a new statewide rail study initiative.

The objective is two-fold:
-To secure as much of the federal rail stimulus money for Minnesota as possible.
-To re-evaluate routing for a high-speed rail line between Minneapolis and Chicago.

The three lines being studied are the Northstar extension to St. Cloud, the Northern Lights Express line to Duluth, and the Midwest Regional Rail to Chicago. All three projects would go through planning to make them eligible for funds, and the MPLS-Chicago line would go through a route re-evaluation which would consider a routing through Rochester.

Apparently Gov. Pawlenty has already met with Jim Doyle, the govenor of Wisconsin, and Tim Walz (US rep for Minnesota's first district, which includes Rochester) to discuss the possible re-routing.

It's great news to hear about this stuff progressing forward, especiially the high-speed line to Chicago, which seemed like a distant dream just three months ago.