Plans progressing for high-speed rail to Chicago

Take the noon train from Minneapolis to the 7 p.m. Twins-Sox game in Chicago? Possibly in a few years.
Take the noon train from Minneapolis to the 7 p.m. Twins-Sox game in Chicago? Possibly in a few years.

Imagine hopping on a train in downtown Minneapolis and getting off less than six hours later in the heart of Chicago, with a stop in Milwaukee in between.

Sound farfetched? Right now, it might, but the Minnesota Department of Transportation is moving ahead with plans for a 400-mile, high-speed rail line that would connect the Midwest's two most happening cities. (Sorry, Omaha.)

MnDOT's plan involves a rail line that would originate at the Minneapolis Transportation interchange near Target Field. From there, the train, which at times could travel up to 110-mph, would make stops in St. Paul, Red Wing, Winona, La Crosse, and Milwaukee before heading south to Chicago.

The Pioneer Press reports that the St. Paul City Council voted last night to support that route configuration, as did the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

MnDOT is currently studying environmental impacts along the route, work that will extend into next year. Once the environmental study is complete, the agency will look for funding for preliminary engineering and design work.

The Minneapolis-La Crosse-Milwaukee-Chicago route isn't yet set in stone, however. The city of Eau Claire, in particular, is miffed about the fact that the proposed route bypasses the hometown of Bon Iver all together.

As the Eau Caire Leader-Telegram reports, the West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition is lobbying the Federal Railroad Administration to reject MnDOT's proposed route. The report quotes the coalition's co-chairman as saying the FTA could take up to a year to make a decision on MnDOT's proposal.

So, as is typically the case with major transportation projects of this sort, things move slowly. It'll still be at least a few years before taking the train to Chicago takes less than eight hours (as is the case with Amtrak's Empire Builder), but it appears MnDOT is working hard to make it happen before the decade is through. 

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