Private company interested in developing the Zip Rail
(THE MED CITY BEAT) - The proposed Zip Rail project is picking up steam.
A private company, North American High Speed Rail Group, has emerged as a possible developer of the high-speed commuter rail connecting the Twin Cities with Rochester. KTTC-TV reports the company has been discussing the project with local and state officials for the past several months.
Wendy Meadley, North American's chief strategy officer, tells the Post-Bulletin that the company has pulled together a group of private investors to fund the project. She said the goal would be to complete the project by 2022.
Officials from North American are expected to meet with lawmakers on Thursday to answer questions.
No public funding
News of a potential private investor for the Zip Rail came almost immediately after Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), an opponent of the project, announced an agreement with rail supporters to ease restrictions on proposed legislation that prohibits public funding.
Under the agreement, no tax dollars would be used to fund rail construction, land acquisition, rail car purchases, or the operation of the line itself. But the bill, which Garofalo intends to introduce later this week, would allow the project to move forward if it can be funded privately.
"I want to thank Zip Rail advocates for their willingness to compromise and am confident that the agreement reached will protect taxpayers from the financial costs of the Zip Rail proposal," Garofalo said in a statement. "I believe this agreement can be a template for future proposed commuter rail proposals moving forward."
Cali Owings of Transit Talk notes that the compromise legislation would still allow public money to be used for preliminary engineering, design and planning for the line.
The Zip Rail project is now advancing through the first phase of a two-step environmental impact review project.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation, the Federal Railroad Administration and the Olmsted County Regional Railroad Authority filed a notice of intent on Monday to begin the study.
The review process will ensure compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, notes a news release from MnDOT.
Once the first draft of the study is completed, there will be another public comment period.
About the Zip Rail
The Zip Rail would travel directly from downtown Rochester to Minneapolis - St. Paul International Airport and/or Union Depot in the Twin Cities.
Two corridor options are being considered, one that runs parallel with U.S. Highway 52 and the other Minnesota Highway 56.
Trains in some sections of the corridor would travel at speeds of about 186 miles per hour, with a projected travel time of approximately 45-50 minutes between the Twin Cities and Rochester.
The estimated cost of the project is somewhere in the ballpark of $2 to $4 billion.
Click here for a summary of the proposal.
Cover graphic: Zip Rail)