Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak in Minnesota’

Minnesota Lawmaker’s Bill Would Rail Study

March 19, 2021

A bill to fund infrastructure improvements needed for a second Amtrak train between Chicago and the Twin Cities has been introduced by the president of the Minnesota state Senate.

Senator Jeremy Miller said the bill has bipartisan support.

It would provide the state funding match for a $31.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation for improvements including extension of sidings, yard leads, mainline work, and communication and signaling on Canadian Pacific’s main line in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Amtrak and Wisconsin have agreed to help fund the improvements.

 “The second train would be a great addition,” Miller said in statement.

“However, I’m most excited about the local track and signal improvements that are included in the proposal, which would benefit both freight and passenger rail. A $10 million investment from the state of Minnesota would result in $53 million in rail upgrades.”

Minnesota Legislature Decline to OK Funding for New Amtrak Service

October 29, 2020

The Minnesota legislature declined to appropriate funding this year to support new Amtrak service between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

Rail passenger advocates had lobbied lawmakers to approve $10 million in matching funds for a federal grant to be used toward launching the service.

The $31.8 million Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Grant was awarded in September and is contingent upon it being matched by Minnesota, Wisconsin and Amtrak.

Amtrak has pledged $5 million while the Wisconsin Department of Transportation has agreed to kick in $6.2 million.

The Great River Rail Commission, which represents 18 governmental bodies in Minnesota and Wisconsin, indicated it will try again next year to win legislative approval of the funding from Minnesota lawmakers.

The proposed service would extend one Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service train to the Twin Cities.

The route is also served by the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Minnesota Lawmakers Haggle Over Bonding Bill

May 16, 2020

Political wrangling in Minnesota has complicated efforts to institute a second Amtrak train between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

Minnesota lawmakers were haggling over bonding authority in the waning hours of their current legislative session and have until Sunday night to finish their work.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is seeking $10 million in bonding authority for track and signal improvements to the route of the second train, which would supplement the Empire Builder, a long-distance train that operates west of the Twin Cities to Seattle and Portland.

The bonding authority is needed for Minnesota and Wisconsin to commit $25 million in local matching funds in order to qualify for $50 million in federal money from the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grant program.

Wisconsin lawmakers have approved $10 million in bonding and landed a $12.6 million in federal start-up grant for the first three years of operation of the train.

Amtrak has agreed to pay $5 million toward the new train.

The standoff in the Minnesota legislature is in part a fight between the state’s Democratic governor and Republican members of the House over the governor’s use of emergency powers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Rail Passengers Association reported on Friday that some supporters of the second train proposal believe the threat by GOP lawmakers to block the bonding bill has abated because Senate Republicans disagree with their colleagues in the House about bonding issue strategy.

Gov. Tim Walz proposed the $10 million bonding authority for MnDOT for the Chicago-Twin Cities second train.

A House bonding bill includes $40 million that would also include the proposed Northern Lights Express between the Twin Cities and Duluth, the second Chicago-Twin Cities train, and an expansion of Northstar commuter service

A Senate bill has proposed proposed $15 million for the second Chicago-Twin Cities train and the Northern Lights Express.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, a Republican, said earlier this week that the fact that Walz is allowing his stay-at-home order to expire on May 18 and to allow more businesses to reopen while observing safety guidelines might be enough to break the bonding bill deadlock.

RPA contends that a second Chicago-Twin Cities train will not adversely affect Empire Builder ridership.

The rail passenger advocacy group said many of the riders for the new train would be former bus passengers or new patrons who are not riding Amtrak.

Minnesota Proponents Seeking State Funding

February 14, 2020

Supporters of a proposed Amtrak service between the Twin Cities and Duluth, Minnesota, are seeking $40 million from the state legislature.

The funding would be used to fund improvements needed to launch the Northern Lights Express.

Much of that money would be used to pay for an additional track between Duluth and St. Paul, and to repair a bridge between Duluth and Superior, Wisconsin.

“We’re now in the year 2020, the support is there because the people of the country want to connect, and also because Amtrak is the way to go,” said Representative Mary Murphy, who is leading the project in the legislature.

Proponents of the Northern Lights Express said they do not plan to seek this year any funding for the project from the Wisconsin legislature.

The Minnesota legislature began its 2020 session this week.

Meetings Held in Minnesota, North Dakota to Public Increase Interest, Support for Daylight Amtrak Service

November 12, 2019

Meetings were held in Fargo, North Dakota; and Moorhead, Minnesota, on Oct. 30 to push for daylight rail passenger service to those cities.

The meetings were conducted by All Board Minnesota and drew 120 people including some state legislators from both states.

Frank Loetterle of the Minnesota Department of Transportation State Rail Office said the state legislature would need to fund the planning process to start a new train.

He said that process would take approximately four years.

Leaders of All Aboard Minnesota said that community groups and residents need to contact their state legislators to lobby for funding for MnDOT’s planning for this new service.

The rail passenger advocacy group also discussed the economic and mobility benefits that additional passenger rail could offer.

They also gave an overview of the proposed additional service between the Twin Cities and Chicago, saying it could be extended to Fargo/Moorhead.

Fargo is a stop for Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder, but is scheduled to arrive between midnight and 5 a.m.

Nos. 7 and 8 do not make station stops in Moorhead, which is adjacent to Fargo.

The event was the fifth held by All Aboard Minnesota in the past 18 months in an effort to  promote more rail service and generate public interest and support.

Supporters of New Train Look to Next Year

July 9, 2019

Supporters of a second Amtrak train between Chicago and Twin Cities are taking a “wait ‘til next year” approach after failing this year to win state funding for development of the service.

The Minnesota legislature did not approve a request from the Minnesota Department of Transportation to pay for more environmental and design work and service planning.

“We’re kind of on life support for right now from our perspective, but we’re keeping the project moving forward,” said Dan Krom, director of MnDOT’s Passenger Rail Office.

However, in Wisconsin the legislature did OK $300,000 to fund environmental work related to the project.

The proposed service would supplement the existing Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder that currently operates between Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota.

Supporters of the second train say the Empire Builder is delay prone, particularly headed eastbound.

“I think we finally got some momentum this legislative session,” said Mark Vaughan, chairman of the Great River Rail Commission, a group of local government officials in Minnesota and Wisconsin that supports efforts to add a second train.

Getting the second train started is projected to cost between $130 million and $140 million.

An Amtrak feasibility concluded that the service could attract 155,000 passengers annually, in addition to the existing 123,000 passengers riding the Empire Builder.

“You’d be providing an option for folks who don’t want to fly or drive, or can’t drive anymore or choose not to drive,” Krom said.

“A lot of people from Red Wing, Winona, La Crosse, Tomah, the Dells are getting on and off,” he said. “It’s providing access for people for those markets in between where there aren’t many options to fly.”

Minn. Gov., Anderson Meet About Duluth Service

March 29, 2019

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz met recently with Amtrak President Richard Anderson to discuss the proposed Northern Lights Express project, but no agreement was apparently reached.

The governor said in a Facebook post that Anderson said the national passenger carrier is ready to work with the state on the project, which would reinstate intercity rail passenger service between the Twin Cities and Duluth, Minnesota.

Another Amtrak official expressed the carrier’s interest in the project during a visit to the state earlier this month.

The Northern Lights Express is projected to operate between a station near Target Field in Minneapolis and make intermediate stops in Minnesota at Coon Rapids, Cambridge and Hinckley, and in Wisconsin in Superior.

The 150-mile line would use BNSF rails. Amtrak’s North Star served that route through April 7, 1985, when Minnesota ceased funding the train.

Minnesota City Backs Added Amtrak Train

March 28, 2018

A Minnesota city is backing an effort to create a second Amtrak train between Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

The La Crescent City Council adopted a motion to support the effort to create another train that would supplement service now provided by the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Mayor Mike Poellinger will send a letter in favor of the service addressed to Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton.

The mayors of Red Wing, Goodview and Winona have also urged Dayton to back a $4 million bonding request to fund the service.

The train would operate in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, which has helped in a study of the service but not committed to funding it.

Rail passenger advocacy group All Aboard Minnesota estimates the additional train would draw 155,000 passengers annually.

Minnesota Rail Study Halted

January 9, 2018

Two Minnesota lawmakers have effectively ended an environmental study of the feasibility of high-speed passenger rail service between the Twin Cities and Milwaukee.

Rep. Paul Torkelson and Senator Scott Newman, both Republicans, and chairmen of the transportation committees in their respective chambers, objected to the Minnesota Department of Transportation accepting federal grant money for the study.

Calling it a waste of taxpayer money, the legislators said that the State of Wisconsin opposes high-speed rail.

“Minnesota should not be squandering precious tax dollars — whether local, state or federal — on a wasteful project actively opposed by other states whose support is necessary to proceed,” the legislators wrote in a letter to the commissioner of the Department of Management and Budget.

Dan Krom, director of MnDOT’s Passenger Rail Office confirmed that the study has been halted even though $1 million in state and federal funding has already been spent on it.

The Minnesota lawmakers were objecting to MnDOT spending another $181,682 being provided by the Federal Railroad Administration.

Krom said the study would have created a “framework for the environmental process moving forward and start looking at some general issues. We didn’t get to any detail; this was just the initial money to get the project started.”

More detailed studies were expected to be conducted at a later date.

Funding for the study originated in 2009 during a economic stimulus program started by the Obama Administration.

Wisconsin was to have received $810 million for a Madison-to-Milwaukee service. However, Republican Scott Walker refused the money after being elected in 2010, saying the service would be too expensive to build and maintain.

Governors in Ohio and Florida also refused rail project stimulus money and the funds were re-directed to other states.

Although Wisconsin continues to fund conventional Amtrak service between Milwaukee and Chicago, Walker continues to oppose high-speed rail service.

“It would be rather inappropriate for us to spend federal funds when there’s no chance of it going forward,” Torkelson said.

Richard Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association said it was shortsighted for Minnesota to end its study, which he called “a basic assessment” to understand what’s needed.

“It’s really just fixing the existing track so you can run things faster and more frequently,” he said.

Janice Rettman, a Ramsey County commissioner who is chair of the Minnesota High Speed Rail Commission, called ending the study regrettable.

Senator Scott Dibble, a member of the Transportation Finance and Policy Committee, called the decision unfortunate.

“Do they only want people to have cars and drive? They have a complete disregard for other modes of transportation,” he said.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari  said that although faster and more-frequent trains help build ridership, reliability is the most-important attribute in luring more passengers.

MnDOT has been eying a second daily round-trip passenger train to supplement the existing Amtrak service between the Twin Cities and Chicago via Milwaukee. With funding and political support, that service could begin operation in 2022.

Torkelson contended that he does not oppose “anything that is economically viable. You need to use resources in a fashion with projects that actually have a chance of getting done.”

Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder is the only rail service between Milwaukee and the Twin Cities.

Don’t Look for Amtrak in South Dakota Anytime Soon

October 18, 2017

Just two of the lower 48 states in the continental United States are not served by Amtrak.

Wyoming once hosted three Amtrak routes and sees a periodic detour of the California Zephyr.

But South Dakota has never seen a scheduled Amtrak train and the state had lost intercity rail passenger service before Amtrak began on May 1, 1971.

Officials in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, have discussed bringing Amtrak to their city, but it is not a high priority they say due to the cost.

Sam Trebilock studied bringing Amtrak to Sioux Falls seven year ago. A planner for the city, Trebilcock said he doesn’t know how much it cost to lure the passenger carrier to the state’s largest city, but it would be expensive.

“I think because of the expense of it, it’s something that isn’t on the front burner or anything,” he said.

Much of the expense of bringing in Amtrak involved track renovation. “You can’t just put passenger rails as I understand it onto a freight rail corridor,” he said.

Another hurdle is showing there is a market for the service. “You’d need to be able to show that you’re going to have the ridership it’s going to take to make that work,” Trebilcock said.

Sioux Falls would need to be linked to a destination that would matter to riders, such as Minneapolis or Omaha, Nebraska.

Although transportation officials in Minnesota studied providing Amtrak service to within six miles of Sioux Falls, it was not a high priority.