County studies diesel-powered cars for Kenilworth track

From the arsenal of acronyms, here's one to interest those living along the Kenilworth Corridor: DMU, or Diesel Multiple Unit.

The DMU is one of the mass transit options Hennepin County is considering for the Southwest Corridor, a commuter rail line linking Eden Prairie and other western suburbs with downtown Minneapolis. DMUs can run on light-rail tracks; while LRT is powered by an overhead electric line, DMUs are self-propelled with diesel.

The Kenilworth track between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles is one potential link in the Southwest Corridor.

DMUs are used in Europe and Canada, said Rick Nau, vice president of URS, a consultant working with the county on the Southwest Corridor Rail Transit Study. The Dallas-Fort Worth transit system uses 1930s-vintage DMUs, but no one currently is making new DMUs that comply with federal safety standards. The Colorado Rail Car Co. is in the process of building a car and working through Federal Railway Authority approval.

The Colorado Rail Car would have a maximum speed of 90 mph, according to URS material distributed at a May 7 community meeting at the Walker Library.

URS does not have information on how noisy DMUs are. They would be louder than LRT, Nau said. LRT's only noise is made by the wheels on the rail. The DMU would add the noise of a diesel motor. URS has asked the manufacturer for more noise information.

URS is working on ridership forecasts, capital and operating costs and other Southwest Corridor issues. Its report is expected in January.

County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said the DMUs might be a more economical alternative. One drawback is they don't accelerate as quickly.

"You can't run a DMU downtown," he said. "In downtown you want your stops a few blocks apart. They are not built to start and stop frequently."

McLaughlin said he wanted to look at the options, but thought that light rail would be the ideal for the Southwest Corridor.

"It would be a continuous line with Hiawatha. You wouldn't have to change lines at all. You could go from Eden Prairie and Hopkins to the University of Minnesota."