Column: New railroad authority heads down right trackOn April 20, the Goodhue County Board activated the Goodhue County Regional Railroad Authority.
By: Ron Allen, Red Wing, The Republican Eagle
On April 20, the Goodhue County Board activated the Goodhue County Regional Railroad Authority.
The Goodhue County Railroad Authority Board comprises all five county commissioners, the county attorney, and finance director. Two nonvoting members are the clerk (county administrator) and county engineer.
The board considered two items: selecting officers and entering into a joint powers agreement with four counties.
The focus of the joint powers agreement is to advocate for federal funds to transform the current Chicago-to-St. Paul line into a high-speed rail line as part of the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative.
This initiative is to develop a high-speed rail network using Chicago as the hub and including more than 3,000 miles of track.
The Midwest Regional Rail’s routes would stretch across Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The federal government is considering transforming the current Chicago-to-St. Paul line into rail service with speeds faster than 124 mph and with three stops in Minnesota — Winona, Red Wing, and St. Paul.
This initiative places Chicago at the heart of a rail hub that allows for easy connections to other cities. The rail line would be an alternative to flying or driving. The goal is to be able to travel from St. Paul to Chicago in about 4.5 hours.
In Goodhue County, we are fortunate that our county seat is currently one of only three Minnesota stops considered.
President Obama has dedicated $13 billion for high-speed rail development this fiscal year as part of the federal stimulus package.
The Goodhue County Regional Railroad Authority has entered into a joint powers agreement with Ramsey, Washington, Dakota, and Winona counties. Houston and Wabasha counties have elected not to join at this time.
Goodhue County and the city of Red Wing will now be voting members. The next joint powers board meeting is May 7.
It was extremely important that we become voting members to advocate for high-speed rail along the Mississippi River with a stop in Red Wing.
Plus, as a member of the Red Rock Commuter Train Committee, our goal is a commuter train service operating on the same rail line.
The major obstacle for the commuter train is the need to improve the rail line from St. Paul to Red Wing and eliminate a major bottleneck in the South St. Paul area. Once this line is improved and this bottleneck eliminated, the commuter train could become operational.
Dakota and Washington counties will not get a high speed rail stop, but officials there know that once the existing rail line is upgraded, they will be able to have commuter train service from St. Paul to Newport to Cottage Grove to Hastings to Prairie Island and the final stop in Red Wing.
In the future, Goodhue County and Red Wing could have a local commuter and high-speed rail stop.
The final destination in Minnesota for both would be Union Station in St. Paul.
This site would become a transportation hub for light rail, commuter rail, high-speed rail and bus service. In the future, you could take the high-speed or commuter train to St. Paul Union Station. At the station, you could take the Central Corridor Light Rail Line to Minneapolis and then take the Hiawatha Light Rail Line to the VA Medical Center, Twin Cities Airport, or the Mall of America, to name a few destinations.
The local metro bus service operating out of the same station could take passengers to other destinations throughout the Twin Cities.
The value of commuter and high-speed rail to Goodhue County and the city of Red Wing is well worth the effort and time to keep this valuable asset along the Mississippi River. I want to thank all members of the new Goodhue County Regional Railroad Authority for the unanimous vote in joining with the other local counties to advocate for keeping the rail line along the Mississippi River and the high speed rail stop in Red Wing.
Ron Allen is chairman of the Goodhue County Regional Railroad Authority and the Goodhue County Board.