State suspends work on Zip Rail; approves permits for private developer
The Minnesota Department of Transportation announced Wednesday that it has suspended work on the proposed Zip Rail project, essentially putting an end to a decade-long push to publicly fund a high-speed rail line connecting Rochester with the Twin Cities metro.
The move follows Monday's release of an Alternatives Analysis report that identified eight possible options for the rail project. However, public funding has run out to continue studying the proposal.
The decision to suspend the process still needs approval from the Olmsted County Regional Railroad Authority, which meets next week.
In a news release sent out on Wednesday, MnDOT also announced it has issued permits to North American High Speed Rail Group to begin a feasibility study on its proposal to privately build a rail line between Rochester and the Twin Cities.
While North American's proposal would not require any public funding, MnDOT said it would still "need to follow federal and state regulations and provide public participation opportunities during development."
Preliminary plans by the company call for an 84-mile elevated rail from Bloomington to Rochester. According to internal documents from MnDOT, speeds could reach 260-280 miles per hour, putting the travel time between the two cities at under a half hour.
Once the rail project is finished, North American is potentially interested in building a link between the Twin Cities and Chicago.
If North American is able to move forward with the project, it would be responsible for all future costs. About a third of the $4.2 billion needed to fund the rail project could come from Chinese investors.
(Cover graphic: Zip Rail)