Posts Tagged ‘Chicago-St. Paul Corridor’

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 Gov. Seeks Funding for New Passenger Service

February 26, 2021

Bonding authorization for development of a Chicago-Twin Cities train was included in a proposal issued this week by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz.

The governor’s $518 million capital investment bonding proposal includes $10 million for the train, which would be the second to serve the route via Milwaukee.

Amtrak’s Empire Builder currently operates tri-weekly on the route on its Chicago-Seattle/Portland trek.

Minnesota’s funds would match a a $32 million federal grant awarded last year.

Studies have concluded the cost of creating the additional Chicago-Twin Cities service will be $53 million.

That includes $40 million for track and signal work in Minnesota to add capacity for passenger and freight trains.

Amtrak and the State of Wisconsin have already approved their share of the matching funds.

The new service is projected to serve 13 stations and have ridership of 124,000 annually.

Amtrak Routes to Benefit from CRISI Grants

September 24, 2020

Several federal CRISI grants were awarded this week that will improve routes used by several Amtrak trains.

A Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement grant of $31.8 million grant was awarded to Ramsey County, Minnesota, to be used toward launching a second train between Minneapolis-St. Paul and Chicago,

The funding will be used to complete final design work for infrastructure needed to accommodate the train, as well as construction of track, signal, and bridge improvements.

Matching funds will be provided from Minnesota ($10 million), Wisconsin ($6.2 million) and Amtrak ($5 million.

One existing Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee is expected to be extended to the Twin Cities.

The Michigan Department of Transportation will receive $15.6 million to improve pedestrian safety between Dearborn and Kalamazoo on Amtrak’s Michigan Line.

The funding will be used for fencing and other safety enhancements at grade crossings that have a high rate of foot traffic.

Officials said 12 pedestrians have been struck by trains in the past four years and there have been numerous near-misses.

The Washington State Department of Transportation received a $3.7 million for landslide mitigation north of Seattle in a mud slide-prone area near Mukilteo, Washington.

The area hosts 14 passengers and an average of 21 freight trains a day and has seen numerous service interruptions.

The funding will be used in the third phase of a program that began in 2016.

New Mexico Department of Transportation received $5.6 million to rebuild the route over Raton Pass used by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

The work will include 12.4 miles of welded rail, 14,750 new ties, repairs to two bridges, rock scaling in three locations, and rebuilding of three grade crossings.

Total project cost is $11.5 million and includes $1 million in funding from New Mexico and $4.9 million from Amtrak.

In a news release, Amtrak said the latest CRISI grant is the fifth federal grant that has been awarded for rebuilding the route of the Chief in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico.

In the pending project, work will begin next year to install new ties on a 31-mile section south of Raton Pass and another six-mile segment in New Mexico.

More than 12 miles of bolted rail will be converted to welded rail between Lamy and where Rio Metro’s Rail Runner commuter traffic diverges to Santa Fe.

Although being rebuilt are the decks of two bridges and three grade crossings.

Although it won’t immediately affect any current Amtrak routes, an award of $47.55 million was given to the North Carolina Department of Transportation for the purchase of CSX’s S-Line rail corridor from Raleigh to Ridgeway, North Carolina.

The Buckingham Branch Railroad received $13.67 million to rebuild 70 miles of track, 14 grade crossings and five bridges in Virginia.

The work will also include construction of new drain systems in the Afton tunnel liner to reduce ice buildup; and improvement of clearances in two additional tunnels along the North Mountain Subdivision line between Charlottesville and Clifton Forge, Virginia.

The route is used by Amtrak’s Cardinal.

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.

New Chicago-Twin Cities Train Seen as Possible Within 2 Years if Funding Falls Into Place

May 15, 2020

Additional Amtrak service could be operating within two years but it faces a big if.

Proponents of the service need to find $25 million in funding from the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin to make the service happen by that timeline as well as land another federal grant.

Wisconsin recently received a $12.6 million federal grant to be used to help pay the startup cost for the service. Amtrak has agreed to pay another $5 million.

The service would operate on the same route of the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder between Chicago and St. Paul.

The federal grant came from the Federal Railroad Administration’s Restoration and Enhancement grants program.

The $25 million from Wisconsin and Minnesota would be used as the local match for another federal grant, this one for $50 million, that the Great River Rail Commission is seeking through the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has asked the state legislature for $10 million to pay for track and signal improvements.

That authority, if approved, would match $10 million in bonding authority from Wisconsin.

The Chicago-Twin Cities train would make all of the same stops made by the Empire Builder but add the Milwaukee’s airport and Sturtevant, Wisconsin, stops that are skipped by Nos. 7 and 8.

FRA Awards Grants for Passenger Rail Projects

May 7, 2020

The Federal Railroad Administration announced this week that it has awarded more than $22 million in grant funding to three passenger-rail projects affecting eight states.

The money from the Restoration and Enhancement Grant Program is aimed at projects to “initiate, restore or enhance intercity passenger-rail service around the country,” FRA officials said in a news release release.

The grants will help fund a possible expansion of Amtrak service between Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul, a possible restoration of Amtrak service along the Gulf Coast and improving CTrail Service in Connecticut.

The Southern Rail Commission received $5.45 million to be used to implement Amtrak service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation received $12,569,200 toward the Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago Intercity Passenger-Rail Service Project.

The project calls for adding a second daily roundtrip train between Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota, to supplement Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

The additional train would provide more convenient travel times and serve 12 stations in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation received $4,395,616 for the CTrail-Hartford Line Rail Enhancement Project.

That project envisions two additional weekday trains between New Haven, Connecticut, and Springfield, Massachusetts.

The additional service will allow for more connections with MTA Metro-North Railroad and Amtrak trains.

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.”

Wisconsin Committee Mulling Rail Funding Increase

June 6, 2019

A Wisconsin legislative commission is posed to vote on a request by the governor to spend $45 million more to increase Amtrak service.

Gov. Tony Evers has proposed the additional funding to be used to pay for three more daily roundtrips of the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service and another train that would operate between Chicago and the Twin Cities of Minnesota.

The funding request is before the budget committee, which is considering several requests from Evers, including some pertaining to highway funding.

Wisconsin currently funds seven Hiawatha roundtrips. Service between Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota, is provided by the Empire Builder, a long-distance train operating between Chicago and Seattle/Portland, Oregon.

Wisconsin rail advocates have long desired another train to supplement the Empire Builder, which they say is prone to delays, particularly eastbound.

A spokesperson for the Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers has said some Hiawatha Service trains are now standing room only during peak travel periods.

WisARP said it would be less expensive to add more trains than to attach an additional rail car or two to existing trains, because during slow periods those extra cars would be empty but still heavy.

Arun Rao of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation said his agency is talking with its counterparts in the Illinois Department of Transportation and the host railroads of Hiawatha Service about how to expand capacity in the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor.

A proposal to add passing sidings in north suburban Chicago drew fierce opposition and IDOT recently said it would no longer support creation of sidings to enable freight trains to get out of the way of Amtrak and Metra trains.

“We would also be looking at incremental improvements. If we did a smaller subset of infrastructure, could we move up to an eighth round trip, and then ninth, and then tenth?” Rao said.

The funding for the proposed additional Chicago-Twin Cities train is needed to qualify for federal grants to help pay to develop the service.

WisDOT said that train could be operating within three to four years.

The committee considering the governor’s requests is controlled by Republican legislators whereas Evers is a Democrat.

There have already been conflicts in the legislature over other transportation spending as well as the overall state budget.

2nd Chicago-Twin Cities Trains Hinges on Funding

April 5, 2019

The rail manager of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation sounded an upbeat note about the prospects of launching a second Amtrak train in the Chicago-Twin Cities corridor, but cautioned that it still hinges on whether the Wisconsin legislature appropriates the money to pay for it.

Arun Rao spoke at a meeting in Portage, Wisconsin, called by the Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers.

He said the Federal Railroad Administration has granted WisDOT an exemption for completing the second phase of an environmental study after deciding the state had done enough already.

“This is very good news because it saves a lot of time and money,” Brown said. “It shortens the timeline, but the state budget is still the main thing to watch right now.”

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers is seeking $45 million for passenger rail, although his proposal does not specify how much, if any, of that funding would be used for the Chicago-Twin Cities train.

Amtrak currently serves the route west of Milwaukee with the daily Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

South of Milwaukee Amtrak operates seven daily Hiawatha Service roundtrips, which are funded in part by Wisconsin.

“What we’ve heard, unofficially, is that some of the money would be used for the [Chicago-Twin Cities]train, but we’ll have to wait and see,” said Terry Brown of WisARP.

WisARP has estimated that it will take $10 million to complete preliminary studies being conducted jointly by WisDOT and the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Advocates of the train have argued that it would provide more reliable service than the Empire Builder, which is subject to delays.

The final design work for the Chicago-Twin Cities train has not yet been completed so such issues as capacity, equipment and scheduling are pending.

An earlier Amtrak study of the route concluded that a second Chicago-Twin Cities train would handle 155,000 passengers annually.

The route between Milwaukee and the Twin Cities has not had multiple daily train frequencies since the Chicago-Duluth, Minnesota, North Star, was discontinued between Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota, on Oct. 25, 1981.

Study Finds Economic Benefit of Chicago-St. Paul Train

March 4, 2019

The Railroad Passengers Association issued a research note last week that argues that a second daily train between Chicago and the Twin Cities would generate a $47 million annual economic benefit in Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Of that, $25 million would benefit Minnesota. The train would divert 90,000 people from car travel to rail travel.

RPA said the economic benefits to Minnesota would be eight- to 10-times Minnesota’s annual net spending to support the potential new service, which is an estimated $2 to $3 million.

The association said its work was a follow-up to a study conducted by Amtrak in 2015.

It noted that the Amtrak study was confined to assessing the feasibility of adding a second train in addition to current Empire Builder.

RPA said its study looked at the total economic benefits of running a second train.

The RPA research note can be viewed at: www.railpassengers.org/site/assets/files/8142/rpa_research_note-_new_train_to_mn.pdf