Rail consultant still not decided

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 4, 2002

City officials are expected to decide soon whether to retain a consultant to study the impact of intensified railroading in Austin.

The Austin City Council's airport-railroad committee is reviewing a proposal and preparing to make a recommendation to the entire council for action in the aftermath of the latest round of DM&E plans for a rail line across Minnesota.

According to Jon Erichson, city engineer and director of public works, the study would examine the impact of increased railroading in Austin at all angles.

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"The city wants to evaluate railroad operations in many areas and what it would mean to business, industry, government and neighborhoods and any safety issues that exist," Erichson said.

Five railroad crossings in the city are prime target areas of concern to city officials.

In addition, the possible impact of DM&E coal trains rolling through Austin is another concern as well as the addition of rail traffic from new DM&E acquisition, the IM railroad running north and south through Austin to Blooming Prairie.

The romantic days when the railroad was "king" of transportation are long gone.

The Milwaukee Road trains that once rumbled through the city are now relegated to a museum at the Mower County Historical Center.

The old Milwaukee Road depot building has been restored and remains a proud landmark at the end of 4th Avenue Northeast along 10th Street.

Other lines lay abandoned and have become coveted byways for biking and hiking trails.

If rail transportation is resurrected by the DM&E and possibly IM rail lines into a steady stream of freight trains through the city, the impact could be great.

Dick Chaffee, Austin's At-Large council member, told city and Mower County officials about the possible increase in rail traffic at a joint city-county meeting recently.

Chaffee said the city was pursuing a study to make sure officials have hard information to make a good decision.

He urged the county officials to join the city in the study, because of the possible impact of rail traffic throughout Mower County.

County officials said they would consider the offer.

The city's director of pubic works, Erichson, is point man for the city's examination of rail traffic's potential in Austin.

He said, council members want a study and want it completed by the end of the year in order to allow them to take a "real serious look" at railroading in Austin.

However, Erichson also noted, the DM&E plans are "no where near being final in any respect."

Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at lee.bonorden@austindailyherald.com