Controversial Rail Line in Rochester to Stay Put

Posted at: 08/27/2013 11:04 PM
By: Steph Crock

(ABC 6 News) -- For more than a decade, a freight rail line through downtown Rochester has caused controversy. Citing safety concerns, those against that line have fought to get it bypassed around Rochester, but it doesn't look like that will happen.

At their meeting Tuesday, Olmsted County Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the "Southeast Minnesota Rail Capacity Study." The study was done by MnDOT and basically says the rail line should stay put.

"The recommendations are that no bypass should happen unless the freight rail increases dramatically," said Olmsted County Commissioner Jim Bier. Since this all started, MnDOT says traffic on the freight rail has actually gone down. "They don't see any growth other than nominal growth for the next 20 years," said Bier.

The study shows the line through downtown Rochester is ok where it is, and that moving it, would actually cost more. "The ‘gold standard’ plan is significantly cheaper than the cheapest bypass plan," said Rochester resident Kathy King, who’s part of "Citizens Against Rochester Bypass" group.

County officials say that ultimately means... "The bypass is dead at this point and is for the immediate future, so hopefully we don't talk about the freight rail anymore," said Bier.

"It proves that there is capacity in the community of Rochester both for passenger and for freight," said King.

Even so, there were some concerns pointed out in the study, like having a "switch yard" in downtown. County officials say that may have to be moved west of town. "That would have a price tag of 9 to 12 million dollars. That won’t happen tomorrow, that may warrant further study," said Bier.

Ultimately, staying put was the most cost effective and those behind this outcome from the beginning were celebrating that Tuesday. "Now is the time, now is the time for the city, now is the time for others in power within this community to protect the citizens, to protect DMC.  Let’s do a good job," said King.

After the approval of this study, they also moved ahead with the passenger rail. It was approved to put in a bonding request from the state for the $15 million high speed rail study.