Posts Tagged ‘Chicago-St. Paul Corridor’

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

 

Study Recommends Chicago-St. Paul Train

September 24, 2018

A second passenger train between Chicago and Twin Cities is a viable concept, a Minnesota Department of Transportation study has found.

A second train on the route should operate four to six hours later than the eastbound Empire Builder, which currently is scheduled to leave St. Paul at 8 a.m.

The second westbound train would operate six hours apart from the Empire Builder, which is scheduled to arrive into St. Paul at 10:03 p.m.

The cost of the service would range between $137 million and $169 million. However, no funding source for the service has materialized.

A previous Amtrak study found 155,000 passengers would ride the second train and recommended the proposal proceed with an environmental review and public outreach efforts that would make the project eligible for federal funding.

“The bottom line is local government has been carrying the water for the last couple of years on this issue,” said Rafael Ortega, Regional Railroad Authority chairman. “We need to push this at the state legislature.”

The Empire Builder operates daily between Chicago and Seattle/Portland.

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.

MnDOT Still Seeking to Improve Rail Service

January 17, 2018

With high-speed rail now sidetracked, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is moving ahead to study increasing the number of stations served by Amtrak’s Empire Builder between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

MnDOT said that increasing Amtrak service and speeding up the existing service between the city urban areas remains a priority.

“There are slow spots along the corridor that if we put some infrastructure investment in, will allow the trains to go through at faster speeds,” said MnDOT passenger rail director Dan Krom.

“Even with a second train, we’re looking at reducing the travel time and shorter dwell times at the stations [by] addressing some of these choke points along the corridor.”

After being prodded by two Minnesota legislatures earlier this month, MnDOT shelved a study of high-speed rail between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

One component of that study was a second train on the route to supplement the daily Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

State officials had said that the second train had not been expected to launch for another three to four years.

“What we’re really wrapping up is some operational modeling to see how the train fits in with the existing freight system,” Krom said.

Winter Storm Disrupts Empire Builder in Montana

February 6, 2017

Severe winter weather in Montana has caused service disruptions for Amtrak’s Empire Builder.

On Monday, Amtrak suspended Nos. 7 and 8 west of St. Paul, Minnesota, after heavy snow and avalanches blocked the tracks in the mountains.

Amtrak Empire BuilderOn Sunday, winter storm Maya was dumping snow at the rate of 1 to 2 inches per hour. Blizzard warnings were posted in Glacier National Park and the BNSF route used by Amtrak was blocked at Marias Pass.

BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said it was not known when rail service would resume.

“BNSF crews were prepared for and are actively working to mitigate avalanche debris and blowing snow that has reached the rail grade,” she said. “We will resume operations through the corridor when conditions allow for the safe movement of trains.”

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said it may be days before the Empire Builder can operate west of St. Paul.

He said the passenger carrier is offering refunds to passengers who trips have disrupted or offering to book them on another date. The Empire Builder will continue to operate between Chicago and St. Paul.

Magliari said trains were being sent back to stations in Shelby and Whitefish, Montana, and no trains are departing from Seattle or Portland for Chicago.

Minnesota Rail Advocates Seek Funds to Pay for Planning of 2nd Chicago-Twin Cities Train

February 4, 2017

Minnesota passenger rail proponents are asking the state to provide funding to complete planning for a second Chicago-Twin Cities passenger train.

MinnesotaThe planning process is being lead by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which is studying what infrastructure improvements are needed for the additional service as well as what capital costs are necessary.

At the present time, Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder is the only passenger train between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

At its last meeting, the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission unanimously approved a resolution in favor of a $23 million general obligation bonding request for passenger rail service across the state.

A second Chicago-Twin Cities train was identified in the 2015 MnDOT State Rail Plan.

“Amtrak’s passenger rail ridership is increasing, we had positive results from our feasibility study, and we hear from many of our constituents that a second train should be added immediately,” said Janice Rettman, chair of the MNHSR Commission and a Ramsey County commissioner. “Many local partners have already come forward to fund the current phase of work, but we need state funds to start the next phase and qualify these projects for possible federal funding.”

State matching funds would be necessary for Minnesota to qualify for those federal funds.

The rail commission is also backing a $1 million state funding request for rail improvements in St. Paul. The money would be spent to create a grade separation near a railroad yard to ease freight congestion.

That would benefit Amtrak by providing more fluid operations at St. Paul Union Depot.

Minnesota Set to Start 2nd Train Study

September 7, 2016

The Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission is set to begin a feasibility study of a second Amtrak train between Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota.

MinnesotaPraveena Pidaparthi, project manager for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said the study will look at how a second train would affect freight operations of the host railroads and determine cost estimates for any track improvements needed to accommodate the additional train.

The $600,000 study will take a year to complete. “We do intend to have a public meeting toward the end of the study because we’ll have more information,” Pidaparthi said. “But we’ll be open to getting comments throughout the study.”

Amtrak conducted a study in 2015 that recommended a second train between Chicago and the Twin Cities. The only service between those cities is the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Once the study is completed, Minnesota officials will conduct an environmental impact statement. Funding for that study has yet to be approved and the EIS is expected to take 18 months to complete.

Funding Set for Chicago-St. Paul Study

March 17, 2016

Government officials in Wisconsin and Minnesota have approved funding for a study of a second passenger train between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

The funding is being provided by the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority of Minnesota, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Minnesota High Speed Rail Commission.

MinnesotaThe Minnesota Department of Transportation will assume the role of technical lead in the study, although it will work with its counterparts in Wisconsin.

The proposed service would use the route of Amtrak’s existing Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

An earlier Amtrak study estimated that a second roundtrip on the Chicago-Twin Cities route could attract more than 155,000 people.

The Empire Builder now carries more than 100,000 annually between Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota.

A second Chicago-St. Paul train is not expected to begin operations until three to four years from now.

The 2015 Amtrak study called for a train of two coaches, a snack coach and a cab car coach along with one locomotive.

The Minnesota-Wisconsin study is expected to take 18 to 24 months to complete and cost $600,000.

The Ramsey County agency, which owns St. Paul Union Depot, is fronting $300,000 of that cost with Wisconsin expected to pay for the other half. The Minnesota Commission is putting up contingency money.

Although Wisconsin officials are willing to participate in the study, it is not clear if the Badger State will agree to help fund the Chicago-Twin Cities service.

Shortly after he took office in 2011, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker killed a program to extend rail passenger service from Milwaukee to Madison.

WisDOT passenger rail implementation Manager Arun Rao said Walker favors a focus on existing rather than new services.

Wisconsin officials are working with the Illinois Department of Transportation to expand by three roundtrips the existing Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service.

Dan Krom, director of the Minnesota transportation department’s passenger rail office, said that one way to implement additional service to the Twin Cities might involve extending an existing Hiawatha Service train.

Depite the uncertain participation of Wisconsin, Krom said he was encourarged because “they [Wisconsin officials] are at the table with us, are an equal partner and are moving forward.”

The study may also address how funding for the train will be worked out. Rao said a good model might be that of the Hiawatha Service in which Wisconsin contributes 75 percent of the operating funds and Illinois pays the other 25 percent.

Implementation of a second Chicago-St. Paul train will also hinge on whether the proposal can win federal funding to cover most of the capital costs.

“There’s a lot of different tentacles to adding a second train,” Krom said noting that bureaucracies and tight regulations are among the challenges that must be addressed.

Ramsey County Nudges Study of 2nd Chicago-Twin Cities Train by Putting up $300,000

February 11, 2016

The Ramsey (Minnesota) County Board of Commissions has approved spending $300,000 to begin an environmental assessment of adding a second train between Chicago and the Twin Cities of Minnesapolis-St. Paul.

A feasibility study conducted by Amtrak nine months ago said the train is expected to need $6.6 million in annual in operating subsidies. That Minnesotamoney would need to come from sources in Minnesota, Wisconsin and/or other parties.

Currently the Twin Cities and Chicago are linked by Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder, which serves 100,000 passengers a year.

The Amtrak study estimated that another train between Chicago and St. Paul could draw 155,000 passengers annually.

“The second daily train is to grow the market, provide greater reliability at conventional speed of 79 miles per hour,” said Dan Krom, director of the Passenger Rail Office of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

MnDOT is expected to form a partnership with Ramsey County in conducting the environmental study. The first phase of that study is expected to be finished by late 2017 and will produce cost figures for construction, capital needs and operating costs.

The environmental study is expected to cost $600,000 with the expense split among MnDOT, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Minnesota High Speed Rail Commission.

“We’re finalizing the contracts right now and will have a consultant on board within a month,” Krom said. “If everything lined up with funding, we could have trains running in three or four years. But a lot of things would have to line up between now and then.”

Ramsey County officials said they acted to put up Minnesota’s share of the money for the environmental study because MnDOT lacks the funds to do so.

The Amtrak study of a second Chicago-St. Paul train did not assume that Amtrak would operate the service or that it would use the exact route of the Empire Builder in the Twin Cities region.

“There’s been no determination of who would be offering the service. It’s way early for that,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

Four potential routes in Minnesota were identified in the Amtrak study, including stops and/or terminal points in St. Paul, Minneapolis, Fridley and St. Cloud.

The study said that the existing infrastructure at St. Paul Union Depot favored it being the terminus for the route because it would be the least expensive option and the quickest to implement.

Some other station options would involve sharing stations with the Northstar commuter rail line, which could result in scheduling conflicts. The Empire Builder route through Wisconsin would likely be used.

The second Chicago-Twin Cities train is seen by some as a step toward developing high-speed rail between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

MnDOT is also studying the Northern Lights Express corridor from Minneapolis to Duluth, but has put on hold a study of developing high-speed rail between the Twin Cities and Rochester, Minnesota.

2nd Chicago-St. Paul Train Study Released

July 4, 2015

A feasibility study of operating a second passenger train between Chicago and Minnesota has concluded that the service would cost $95 million to implement and require an annual operating support of $6.6 million.

The expected start-up costs would be for infrastructure capacity improvements. The figures are for a Chicago-St. Paul, Minnesota, service. Operating between Chicago and St. Cloud, Minnesota, would cost an additional $46.4 million.

The study was conducted by Amtrak for the Minnesota and Wisconsin departments of transportation.

The only intercity rail service between Chicago and Minnesota is the daily Empire Builder, which operates between Chicago and Seattle/Portland.

The study’s scope included an assessment of schedules, ridership, revenue, infrastructure investments, operating costs and equipment needs. It assumed that the second round trip would use the same route as the Empire Builder via Milwaukee and La Crosse, Wisconsin.

The study recommended an environmental review of the project. The proposed second train would depart from Chicago in the morning and in mid-day from St. Paul.

Ridership on the additional daily train would be an estimated 155,000 passengers. The Empire Builder carries 104,000 between St. Paul and Chicago.

The study is available at www.dot.state.mn.us/passengerrail.