- Freight rail: Privately owned freight rail is profitable, but Improvement costs are shared by public and private entities
- Federal funding: Several programs under the existing surface transportation authorizing legislation (SAFETEALU)
- The Passenger Rail Improvement and Investment Act of 2008 (PRIIA) created three new passenger rail investment programs for states
LRT expansion is a major current and proposed initiative in the metro area. The Central Corridor is under construction. The Southwest corridor is being planned and proposed.
Rail and road separation projects in key areas will increase safety, efficiency and air quality.
The existing North Star Commuter Rail from Minneapolis to Big Lake would benefit from a third track at Fridley. The Red Rock line from Saint Paul to Hastings is being advocated.
Addressing areas of congestion with a multi-modal approach that includes rail will be useful and efficient, particularly as the result lures more commuters from cars to rail service.
Prepare for growing demands on the east metro’s freight system.
If High Speed Rail becomes a major initiative, then the line to Chicago is the critical Minnesota project.
The reconstruction and reuse of the Saint Paul Union Depot is currently underway and will become a multi-modal LRT, bus, commuter rail, and AMTRAK station.
Rail for commuting is fairly new in Minnesota. Thus, at this point in time, the infrastructure is very new. Commuter trains on heavy rail are also a recent endeavor. Because of this newness, passenger rail is not yet experiencing the aging and neglect that other modes of public infrastructure are facing. High speed passenger rail is an evolving technology, not yet present in Minnesota.
Freight rail is a private enterprise, profitable and well-maintained. Railroads and transit planners are trying to prepare for growing demands on the east metro’s freight system, while adding to it an array of ambitious new passenger train services. The tab for all the improvements needed to keep those trains rolling between St. Paul and Hastings is estimated at $827 million, according to a federally funded study led by the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority. The study envisions five phases of gradual improvements over an unspecified timeline.
What can people expect if an adequate level of funding is not maintained?
At present, since passenger rail in the metro area is new and freight rail is privately provided, there is not a “rail infrastructure crisis.” If there is no long term plan to address funding for maintenance and capacity issues, then areas of congestion will increase. This will result in delivery inefficiency and safety problems. Consumer travel choices will be narrowed. Railroads may be prompted to shift trains to more efficient hubs elsewhere, such as Kansas City.
The ripple effects will mean more trucks on the highways and diminished economic development as businesses also turn elsewhere for better rail freight service.
Freight and Passenger Rail Recent Entries
The Saint Paul Union Depot, formerly an historic regional rail transit hub, is currently being architecturally restored and its transportation function enhanced. The Twin Cities AMTRAK station will be relocated to the renovated Depot. A new station is being constructed adjacent to the Depot for the Central Corridor LRT. It would become the northern terminus for the Red Rock line proposed to serve southeastern communities from Saint Paul to Hastings. Commuter bus service for many bus lines would start and end there.
Related news article: A new day is coming for St. Paul’s Union Depot | Article by: KEVIN DUCHSCHERE, Star Tribune | December 4, 2012
Study finds rail helps drive counties’ economic engines
Study finds rail helps drive counties’ economic engines. | University of Minnesota Extension | Fall 2010
In 2009, the Minnesota Valley Regional Rail Authority (MVRRA), a public entity governed by Carver, Redwood, Renville, Sibley and Yellow Medicine counties, commissioned a team of Extension experts with the University of Minnesota to study the economic impact of 94-miles of rail running from Norwood Young America to Hanley Falls. The stretch passes through prime agricultural land and areas rich with biomass for renewable energy production.
Extension experts put real numbers to the rail’s impact in the area. The findings were eye-opening, says Brigid Tuck, Extension community economics educator and co-author of the report. “Without the railroad, we learned that close to 700 full- and part-time jobs would be affected,” Tuck says.
In addition, goods shipped by the rail in 2008 contributed to $28 million in labor income and $302 million in additional goods and services, according to the analysis.
The report helped push through a bill in the Minnesota Legislature earlier this year, which prompted the state to contribute $5 million toward the rail upgrade. Proponents reported the decision to invest would lead to increased profitability for shippers, business expansion, and positively affect home values and median incomes.
Study: East-metro rail upgrades will punch a pricey ticket
Freight and Passenger Rail Overview
For rail, there exists passenger and freight service, public and private ownership, and heavy and light rail. Infrastructure includes rails, stations, cars, power, signs, signals and controls, fueling, storage yards, and maintenance facilities. Intelligent transportation Systems (ITS) applications are a growing part of the system. Within the metro area and in other larger Minnesota cities, passenger rail is part of the transit system that includes rubber-tired vehicles. That infrastructure includes busses, bus shelters, signs, additional fueling, storage yards and maintenance facilities. In the metro area, there is both public and private bus service.
Railroad corporations share track with government owned passenger trains via inter-railroad leases. There are different owners and/or ‘controllers’ of rail system pieces. The Federal Transportation Agency has jurisdiction over light rail and commuter rail. The Federal Railroad Administration has jurisdiction over high speed rail and freight operations. They set rules and have jurisdiction over standards. Amtrack is an independent agency operating on leased tracks.
Minnesotans benefit from relatively new rail lines, both light rail (LRT) and heavy rail, and use Amtrack for interstate travel. Desired goods arrive by rail. Consumers make their transportation choices based on time and money. Freight trains share corridors with other transportation modes such as roads and waterways. Congestion on roads and highways would be much greater without freight rail service.