Minnesota Department of Transportation

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About railroads in Minnesota

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About railroads in Minnesota

State Rail Plan

Now in process for its federally mandated five-year update, the Minnesota State Rail Plan will provide an overall vision for effective use of the state’s freight and passenger rail network and its future development. The plan will identify priority rail corridors, programs, and projects that offer effective improvements or expansion for passenger and freight travel in and out of Minnesota.

Freight rail

Minnesota’s freight railroads form a critical part of the State’s multimodal transportation system. Many of the state’s major industries rely on the rail system for efficient delivery of goods. The freight rail system is particularly critical in providing efficient connections to markets beyond state borders, throughout North America, and to the world through the seaports on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, and the Great Lakes. Rail provides critical options to shippers in terms of market access, modal economics, and service. Minnesota has 4,444 route miles of railroads serviced by 21 railroad companies.

Crude by rail / rail safety improvement study

The 2014 Minnesota Legislature directed the Minnesota Department of Transportation to conduct a study of highway-rail grade crossings improvements for rail corridors carrying unit trains of crude oil and other hazardous materials. The legislature also appropriated $2 million for implementation of safety improvements at these grade crossings specifically along crude-by-rail corridors. It is estimated that this appropriation will fund the installation of approximately 10 lower cost grade crossing improvements.

Rail grade crossing safety project selection

The safety of road users at Minnesota's 4,000-plus railroad grade crossings has improved in recent decades. In the early 1990s, over 100 automotive crashes per year occurred at rail crossings in Minnesota. Currently, the state records about 45 crashes per year, of which five involve fatalities. MnDOT oversees crossings on all roadways, though only 5 percent of crossings are on state highways.

Investigators created a new model for selecting railroad grade crossings for safety upgrades. The risk-based strategy, adapted from MnDOT's innovative approach to highway safety, allowed MnDOT to create a rail crossing upgrade plan based on risks of injury and death at crossings throughout Minnesota. See Rail Grade Crossing Safety Project Selection report.

Passenger rail

The vision for passenger rail is to develop a robust intrastate and interstate intercity passenger rail system which results in improved travel options, costs and accessibility for Minnesota and interstate travelers. The improvements would allow for a comprehensive network of passenger rail services and the preservation and continued growth of freight rail service in Minnesota, with connections to destinations beyond the State’s borders.

Rail transit

Rail transit services typically operate in urban regions, and generally serve commuters traveling to and from work. Light Rail Transit (LRT) typically operates with frequent stops spaced one-half-mile to one-mile apart in dense urban environments at speeds of 20 to 50 mph, with regular and continuous daily service. Commuter rail services typically connect urban centers with suburban populations over moderate distances with wider station spacing of 2 to 5 miles, higher speeds of 30 to 70 mph, and service concentrated on providing trips to and from work during weekday rush hours. Examples in Minnesota include Hiawatha LRT and Northstar Commuter Rail.