This is a two-part update on the proposed zip rail that would travel from Rochester to the Twin Cities. The second part will offer comments from city officials in Byron, Dodge Center and West Concord on the project.
By David Richards
A high-speed zip rail isn't faster than a speeding bullet, but it is faster than a car.
A lot faster.
Such a rail line, which would zoom passengers nonstop from Rochester to the Twin Cities in half the time it takes now by car, has been in the brainstorming phase for more than a decade, project officials say, and has gained traction since 2010.
The project has even been narrowed to eight possible routes, with one of them traveling through Byron, Kasson, Dodge Center and West Concord most likely parallel to the existing train tracks and within close proximity of Highway 14, said Charles Michael, project manager for the Olmsted County Regional Railroad Authority.
The zip rail is currently in the Environment Impact Statement phase, which Michael said could take up to six years and has been in that phase for a year already.
As part of the EIS, project officials will be looking to determine potential people and environmental impacts.
"We want to sit down with each community to minimize the impacts and the costs," Michael said.
Michael said he expects the Minnesota Department of Transportation to recommend a final route by mid 2015 and then send that to the Federal Rail Administration for approval.
If funding for the project were to be secured, which officials said could come from capital funding at the federal level, construction wouldn't begin until 2018 at the earliest and would take two to three years to build at a cost expected in the billions of dollars range.
Michael said the speed of the zip rail would be 180 mph, and a one way ticket would cost in the $27-$30 range each way, with discounts given to seniors, students and frequent commuters.
Michael said an estimated 2.5-3 million visitors and patients visit Rochester each year, with 4,000 to 5,000 regular commuters from the Twin Cities to Rochester and a few thousand who commute from Rochester to the Twin Cities.
Read the rest of the story in the Byron Review print edition.