Council supports rail line

Published 9:51 am Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The City of Austin has voiced its support of a high-speed rail to operate north and south through Rochester, although they expressed concern it could divert coal trains through Austin.

The city council gave a nod of approval during its regular meeting Monday night.

“Austin at one time was a major rail city,” said council member Brian McAlister, who added he does not understand the public’s worry about potential train traffic. Trains have not stopped in Austin for several decades.

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“As soon as you mention coal trains, people go crazy,” he said.

City administrator Jim Hurm said there is a difference between freight and coal trains, and that trains would not stop when traveling through Austin.

“It calls for an unbiased study,” he said.

“It’s just precautionary more than anything else,” Mayor Tom Stiehm said. “We could have great big coal trains coming through, and I don’t think we’re set up for that.”

City engineer Jon Erichson explained that one concern he has is if there is flooding in Austin, streets like Oakland Avenue are not passable. If an overpass needed to be constructed, for instance, would the city have to pay those costs?

“We want to make sure we have the ability to negotiate with the railroad,” Erichson said.

“What really is the benefit Austin would get out of it (the high-speed rail)?” council member Dick Pacholl asked.

Hurm pointed out it would also allow for faster transportation from Rochester to Chicago.

“It helps get people to where jobs are faster,” council member John Martin said.

“They’re will be trunk lines,” Stiehm said.

“Who knows, but if we got a trunk line to Rochester … there’s still a lot of people who commute from Austin to Rochester or Rochester to Austin.

“We want to be part of it — that’s what we’re saying with this resolution,” he said.

The council voted 6-1 to approve the resolution supporting the high-speed rail, with council member Marian Clennon voting no.

No timeline has been set for when a high speed rail line could be brought to Rochester if such a plan were approved by the state and federal government.

The federal government currently has almost $8 billion available in stimulus funding for high-speed rail lines. The legislature must submit a statewide plan by the end of December.