What is Zip Rail?
The Rochester-Twin Cities Rail Corridor, or Zip Rail, is an approximately 100-mile corridor located between Rochester and the Minneapolis/St. Paul Metropolitan Area (Twin Cities). The corridor includes Olmsted, Dodge, Goodhue, Rice, Dakota, Ramsey and Hennepin counties. The rail corridor is planned to connect Rochester with existing and/or proposed transportation facilities in Minneapolis/St. Paul and is consistent with an eventual high speed passenger rail regional connection between the Twin Cities and Chicago.
Zip Rail offers a different type of service than commuter rail or existing rail service:
- True high speed rail - speeds of up to 150-220 mph
- Dedicated track - no slow downs due to freight rail competition
- Time and cost competitive with air and vehicle travel
- Potential for future connections to other cities and states
As a true high-speed passenger rail service, Zip Rail offers the potential of reduced public financial support once initial capital costs are covered:
- Faster speeds generate higher ridership, which equals a higher return on investment
- Speeds and service times maximize ridership potential (i.e. full trains) which generates higher ticket/operating revenues
In addition, the Zip Rail program is pursuing the project as a Public-Private Partnership:
- Both public and private sectors will participate in funding for capital costs
- More positive operating margin makes project more attractive to private investors
- Private partner responsible and held accountable for on-time operations, maintenance and growing ridership
- Limits government financial risk and decreases government subsidies to the project
In 1992, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) designated five high speed rail corridors around the United States, including a Midwest Corridor linking Chicago, IL with Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, Detroit, MI, St. Louis, MO, Indianapolis, IN, and the Quad Cities, IL/IA. The FRA has noted the benefits of implementing high speed rail corridor projects and programs will:
- Serve as a catalyst for growth in regional economic productivity and expansion by stimulating domestic manufacturing, promoting local tourism, and driving commercial and residential development;
- Increase mobility by creating new choices for travelers in addition to flying or driving;
- Reduce national dependence on oil; and
- Foster livable urban and rural communities.
Passenger rail vision
The Olmsted County Regional Railroad Authority (OCRRA), in partnership with MnDOT and FRA, is continuing the evaluation of a high-speed passenger rail connection between Rochester and the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area. In February 2010, MnDOT published its Comprehensive Statewide Freight and Passenger Rail Plan, which determined that the option for a high-capacity, high-speed rail transportation system is not only desirable, but affordable and even preferred as fuel prices rise and larger volumes of travelers shift to an available rail system. The State Rail Plan concluded that the Rochester to Twin Cities route was a Priority 1 Corridor, worthy of continued study and evaluation based on its economic and technical viability.
The business case for high speed rail
Preliminary feasibility studies prepared by MnDOT and others have indicated that a Rochester to Twin Cities high-speed passenger rail system appears both economically and technically viable. To continue these studies, continued funding through MnDOT has been received.
Olmsted County is preparing a methodical, well-planned approach to a high-speed passenger rail program that will provide significant long-term benefits to the Region and the State. This project is indeed a bold initiative, but with public determination and support, we can develop a cost-effective, sustainable high-speed passenger rail system that will serve generations to come.
The FRA has developed a detailed, prescriptive process for evaluating the feasibility, cost basis and benefits of high-speed rail programs. Olmsted County and MnDOT are committed to conducting the analysis of the Rochester-Twin Cities Passenger Rail Corridor Investment Plan in an open and transparent public process.