11/21/2012 3:18:00 PM Railroad issues draw crowd, with questions to ask
By Ruth Hanson
The crowd that responded to an invitation to an open house on November 14 to hear the latest on the possibilities for freight rail traffic in Olmsted and Dodge County numbered an estimated one hundred.
But it was a subdued group and there were a good number of engineers and experts in transportation fields spotted around a large room in the Heinz Commons in Rochester Community and Technical College ready and willing to answer their questions.
Kathy King, for instance, has been spending many hours for the last 20 years following the question of whether a railroad bypass might end up almost in her farmyard near Rock Dell. She remembers taking a ride on the DM&E Railroad from Byron to Rochester listening to Kevin Sheiffer, the president of the DM&E railroad, explain how he wanted to bring coal from Wyoming east through Rochester.
The eighth circuit court in St. Paul ruled that the bypass would not be reasonable or feasible, deciding that mitigation steps would be up to the City of Rochester. The decision was to do nothing, based on prospective coal tonnage.
"So nothing was done until the Canadian Pacific bought the DM&E and used private dollars to put welded track from Dover to Claremont," King said.
The Union Pacific had upgraded its rail from the Twin Cities south to Owatonna, creating the ICE Line bypass, running southeast to Chicago.
"The late Mike Podulke, an Olmsted County commissioner, gave the gift of 'a Rochester bypass' in a comment years ago," King said. "He pointed out the train route going from Owatonna to Chicago."
The DM&&E/Canadian Pacific is content to run trains into Dodge Center to McNeilus Steel, and then only four trains on to Rochester and then Winona for the foreseeable future.
"If more than four trains a day, including the addition of passenger trains occurs, then more money may be available as federal, state, local and private dollars are added," King said. "The money could be used to install more four quadrant gates and whistle free corridors, which would be more safe and less annoying. The DM&E will never become a powerhouse between the Wyoming/South Dakota border and Winona, in part because of the freezing of the Mississippi River."
On December 16, 2009, Congress directed designating funds for the Southern Rail Corridor project. They are intended to provide funding for the SRC to evaluate the need and feasibility to relocate the existing DM&E freight line in Rochester to accommodate a potential increase in train traffic and address capacity, environmental and safety concerns associated with the current route through the city's downtown.
The project was intended to advance the study of reasonable and feasible alternatives, including improvements to existing infrastructure and consideration of a bypass around Rochester. The eighth circuit court ruled against the bypass because of karst geological concerns.
The Technical Advisory Committee and the Public Advisory Committee, working in collaboration with a team from Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc. will meet separately between Open House #2, which met on November 14 and fielded many questions, and Open House #3 in mid January. Open House #4 will meet in March and will make a final recommendation.
Committee members will consider the no build alternative, with and without increased rail traffic; mitigation of the current route through Rochester with and without increased rail traffic; proposed SRC alternative and all other reasonable bypass routes.
"It is important for people to send comments to Trudy Richter, the Kimley-Horn facilitator, or to David Christianson, the Department of Transportation coordinator, by early March," King said. "People need to express their opinions. It is our chance to make a difference."
www. Southern Rail Corridor Feasibility and Alternative Analysis Studyrudy Richter" firstname.lastname@example.org