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MN Rail Commission Supports Ramsey County Funding Request

Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Grade Separation Project

ST. PAUL, Minn. (January 9, 2015) – In a move to pave the way for increased passenger rail service, the Minnesota High Speed Rail Commission is supporting a $1 million state funding request for rail improvements in St. Paul. The request is being made by the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority (RCRRA) which seeks collaboration with the State of Minnesota in funding the environmental analysis and engineering of a grade separation project in the St. Paul rail yards.

“The Minnesota High-Speed Rail (MNHSR) Commission eagerly supports the RCRRA’s request for partial state funding of this work,” says MNHSR Commission chair, Janice Rettman. “In addition to easing freight rail congestion, the grade separation will greatly benefit Amtrak’s Empire Builder passenger line by improving fluidity around Union Depot.”

The east metro rail yard in St. Paul handles 10,000 cars per day, or five percent of the nation’s freight volume. Today, 110 trains from Canadian Pacific Railway, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF), and Union Pacific Railroad run through St. Paul in addition to Amtrak’s daily Empire Builder (passenger rail). This figure is expected to grow to 160 daily trains in coming years. Forecasted growth in freight traffic will result in a deterioration of service reliability and speed, increase shipping costs, and negatively impact passenger rail service. The planned introduction of commuter, higher speed, and additional intercity passenger rail will further strain rail capacity, requiring additional operational and physical improvements to existing rail facilities.

The RCRRA is seeking $1 million from the state general fund to advance a grade separation project into environmental analysis and engineering. The estimated cost of this work is $1.5 million. The RCRRA has actively engaged freight railroads and other stakeholders to address capacity, fluidity, and safety concerns through the federally funded East Metro Rail Capacity Study. The Study was commissioned to identify needs, constraints, and potential solutions related to developing a regional multimodal transit hub at St. Paul’s Union Depot. The outcome is a set of concept designs and planning-level cost estimates for physical improvements which may serve as the basis for future project development.

The Union Pacific/Burlington Northern Santa Fe Grade Separation Project will provide a grade separation to take the Union Pacific Altoona Subdivision tracks underneath the four BNSF mainlines for the Midway and St. Paul subdivisions. The separation will increase capacity, improve fluidity, and safety by eliminating a bottleneck on the east metro freight network which is bound by Interstate 94 and Interstate 35E on the west and north and Highway 61 on the east and south.

The BNSF, Canadian Pacific Railway and Union Pacific Railroad Company have agreed to provide $125,000 each. The RCRRA will contribute $125,000. All three freight railroads that operate through this congested section of East Saint Paul will benefit greatly from the ultimate construction of the project.

The Twin Cities has been identified by the Brookings Institution as one of the top performing economies in the world. The region also provides a vital Midwest crossroads for transportation served by multiple interstate highways, the Mississippi River, and four Class I railroads. Railroads are a central component of a transportation system that carries coal, grain, and other commodities from the region to the world.

MNHSR Commission Chair, Janice Rettman adds, “Working together to implement these important recommendations from the East Metro Rail Capacity Study helps ensure the Twin Cities metro area remains a leader in local, regional, and national freight service and underscores the possibility of offering additional passenger rail service.”

About the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission:

The Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission is one of the leading authoritative voices on high-speed rail in Minnesota. Comprised of elected officials from 16 local governments, the commission advocates for the development of Minnesota’s first high-speed rail line within the federally designated high-speed rail corridor that connects the Twin Cities to Milwaukee and Chicago. The commission is a strong proponent of bringing high-speed rail to the Midwest through the scenic upper Mississippi River valley./p>

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