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Progress on Minnesota High Speed Rail Slows

A private company that proposed to build a high-speed rail line from Rochester to the Minneapolis–Saint Paul region has delayed its development, seeking more time to collect information.

(TNS) -- A company seeking to build a high-speed rail line from Rochester to the Twin Cities with private dollars needs more time before deciding whether to push ahead with the project.

"We simply need more time to collect information," said North American High Speed Rail Group's Chief Manager Wendy Meadley.

Earlier this month, the rail group requested the Minnesota Department of Transportation extend the deadline for two work permits set to expire at the end of the month. MnDOT granted the request, setting a new deadline of Dec. 1 for the permits.

The miscellaneous work permits allow the company to do non-invasive activities in the right-of-way along U.S. 52 and U.S. 63. Those permits enable the company to complete a preliminary study of the potential high-speed rail route. The rail group did not request an extension for a third work permit in the metro area.

North American High Speed Rail Group is seeking to build the first privately financed high-speed rail line in the United States. The company has proposed building a $4.2 billion elevated rail line from Rochester to the Twin Cities. Initial plans call for high-value freight to be part of the project, along with commercial development that would be tied into the line. The eventual goal would be to extend high-speed rail service to Chicago.

Initially, the company had hoped to complete its preliminary study of the line by the end of the month and present a summary report to MnDOT. But Meadley said the rail group needs more time to meet with key stakeholders before making a final decision whether to push ahead with the project. One reason for the delay was discussions about a possible special legislative session this summer, which made it tough to talk with key officials.

"There were stakeholder meetings that we needed to have that were basically delayed because of the potential special session," she said.

Meadley did emphasize that so far, no environmental or geological problems have been identified that would prevent the rail project from moving ahead. Work also continues on raising up to $50 million from U.S. investors to fund a detailed feasibility study.

"We do have a viable model. We do have national and international and state level financial interest in the project. There are people interested in moving this project forward," she said.

Meadley has previously said the company is in talks with two countries — China and Japan — about the possibility of importing their high-speed rail technology for the project.

The rail group made the request to extend the non-metro work permits via an email to MnDOT staff. MnDOT spokesperson Kevin Gutknecht said the permits were extended because "the request was reasonable and showed no reason not to extend."

Critics of the high-speed rail proposal say company officials have failed to live up to their promises to keep residents informed as work on the project continues.

"There's been no communication. None," said Heather Arndt, co-chairwoman of Citizens Concerned About Rail Line.

Arndt said residents who live along U.S. 52 continue to be concerned about the proposal. Every month, CCARL holds meetings that attract a crowd of 25 to 30 residents looking for more information about the rail proposal.

"There has been no information coming forward. Nobody has been contacted," Arndt said.

Meadley said the rail group intends to honor its promise to hold public meetings about the rail proposal. But before that can happen, she said the company needs to put together a formal plan that it can share with residents.

She added, "We're interested in having a public meeting as soon as we have a plan to share."

©2016 the Post-Bulletin Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.