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Freight rail economic study sought

Published (3/2/2012)
By Mike Cook
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Railroads can be the economic driver for rural communities. But there may be more that can be done to or for these railroads to make these small towns across the state more viable.

Sponsored by Rep. Mike Beard (R-Shakopee), HF2428 would direct the Transportation and Employment and Economic Development departments to conduct a study about the economic impacts of freight rail and ways to maximize economic development. Results would be due the Legislature by Jan. 15, 2013.

The bill was held over Feb. 29 by the House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee for possible omnibus bill inclusion. A companion, SF1960, sponsored by Sen. Joe Gimse (R-Willmar), awaits action by the Senate Finance Committee.

“We have over 20 railroads in this state that move over 235 million tons of freight each year. For many manufacturers they’re a vital link to the customers around the country and around the world,” Beard said. “I believe a study can help us identify some other opportunities, some things that are hazards that we may want to avoid in the future and help us create more jobs.”

Rep. Terry Morrow (DFL-St. Peter) spoke about the benefits of the Minnesota Prairie Line Inc. in south-central Minnesota, including how it helped an ethanol plant triple its output because the end product could be shipped by train, rather than just truck, “This is exactly the kind of thing that we should be talking about,” he said.

“Any way you can add to this economic base on these short lines to maintain their integrity for the future is a good thing,” said Bob Zelenka, executive director of the Minnesota Grain and Feed Association.

MnDOT would authorize funds from the Minnesota Rail Service Improvement program for the study.

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