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Plan laid out for St. Paul to Red Wing passenger rail line

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Regional officials would eventually like to provide passenger rail service between Red Wing and St. Paul.

The Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority paid a consultant $150,000 to analyze the possible service. Completed in January, the study was shared with Goodhue County commissioners on Tuesday.

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The study does not indicate who would pay the estimated $41 million to $106 million in capital costs for the project, or when construction would begin.

In fact, the study suggests waiting several years to even consider such a rail line.

"There would be nothing in the next few years," said Alicia Vap, senior transportation planner with the railroad authority. "This is something we're going to continue to watch, continue to hope for."

A one-way ticket on the train -- which would initially run on weekends only and make stops at Treasure Island Resort & Casino and Hastings -- would cost $13, according to preliminary figures.

If approved, the train would run on existing tracks, and in the future could connect St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis.

Vap said negotiating with railroad companies to use the rails would be one of the project's major challenges, which is why the report suggests the service run only on weekends at first, because of lighter train traffic on those days.

Amtrak from St. Paul Midway operates one train daily each way between Red Wing and St. Paul, but makes no stops.

Vap said Amtrak's prices and current service out of Red Wing are geared toward long-distance travelers.

"It's not good for service from Red Wing to St. Paul," she said.

Preliminary estimates gauge annual ridership for the proposed new service between 5,100 and 15,800, though Vap admits selling commuters on riding a train would be difficult.

"It's just so easy to drive to Red Wing and it's so fast," Vap said. "Congestion during peak periods ... it's not so bad."

Which is why officials hope the new Northstar Commuter Rail linking St. Cloud, Minn., with downtown Minneapolis will get people excited about alternative forms of transportation.

Vap said more consideration will be given to the Red Wing rail service when the Northstar line starts running in 2009. She also said more changes need to occur at the federal level regarding passenger rail funding.

U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., currently serves as chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

"We want to keep this service kind of in the back of our minds," Vap said. "We've done some good work that could be used in the future."

Commissioner Ron Allen, who represents Welch Township and part of Red Wing, said train travel is cleaner and more efficient. He's a big proponent of commuter rail service between here and the Twin Cities.

"I think it's a fantastic idea for the future if we could get it to work," Allen said.

"A lot of people would be interested in using a rail system, especially as gas prices go up."

Allen sits on the Red Rock Corridor Committee. The Red Rock Corridor, a 30-mile stretch between Hastings and Minneapolis, is part of the proposed Twin Cities regional transit system.

Officials also are considering adding rail service along that corridor and possibly down to Red Wing, Allen said, although he suspects that any rail-related project in this area is at least 10 years in the future.

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