Posts Tagged ‘Chicago-Twin Cities Amtrak service’

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.

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.

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.

Chicago-Twin Cities Expansion Hearings Planned for September

July 21, 2017

The Minnesota Department of Transportation said this week that it has completed a “purpose and need” statement for a proposed expansion of rail passenger service between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

MnDOT is studying the addition of a second roundtrip Amtrak train between the two metropolitan regions to supplement the daily Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

The next step in the review will be a series of public hearings on Sept. 6 at St. Paul Union Depot in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and on Sept. 7 at the La Crosse County Administrative Center in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Those hearings are part of a process of evaluating alternatives for the project and the needed infrastructure upgrades.

The Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois departments of transportation are working with the Federal Railroad Administration, Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority, Minnesota High Speed Rail Commission and La Crosse Area Planning Committee on the initial planning effort for the proposed TCMC project.

Minnesota, Wisconsin Eye New Twin Cities Train

November 2, 2013

Not since 1981 has there been double Amtrak service between Chicago and the Twin Cities in Minnesota, but that may change.

Wisconsin and Minnesota transportation officials are eyeing the prospect of adding a second train to the route that would supplement the current service provided by the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Minnesota Department of Transportation Passenger Rail Office director Dan Krom said there is demand for another train on the route and that it will be a more efficient version of the Empire Builder, not a high-speed one.

The states and Amtrak are studying ridership projections, what time of day the second train should operate, and cost-sharing between Minnesota and Wisconsin. The study is being conducted by Minnesota DOT and is expected to be released in early 2014.

In Amtrak’s first decade, the Empire Builder and North Coast Hiawatha, which also operated between Chicago and Seattle, ran independently between Chicago and the Twin Cities. In September 1977, Amtrak combined the Empire Builder and North Coast Hiawatha, and launched a daytime train between Chicago and the Twin Cities named the Twin Cities Hiawatha.

The latter train shifted to overnight operation in April 1978 and was combined with the Minneapolis-Duluth,  Minn., Arrowhead to create a daily Chicago-Duluth train named the North Star.

The North Star was discontinued in October 1981, leaving the Empire Builder as the sole train between Chicago and the Twin Cities. The North Coast Hiawatha had ended in a massive 1979 service curtailment and route restructuring program.

Passenger train advocates say the Empire Builder schedule is not convenient for business travelers or those wanting to make a day trip to Chicago or the Twin Cities.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker returned federal high-speed rail funds in 2010, but Krom said having the second train could be a step toward high-speed rail if it can “prove that the ridership is there, grow the market, [and] allow us to continue to do the work on the faster trains.”

“If the political will changes in Wisconsin and they are interested in looking at true high-speed service of 110 miles per hour again, we’ll have done our work to get us to that point,” Krom said.

John Parkyn, president of the Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers said a second train on the route has been discussed for years.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation said it is cooperating with its Minnesota counterparts who are estimating the number of riders, revenue, operating costs and the cost for updating infrastructure to make the second train possible.

“So we’re looking into it. We don’t know if it’s feasible or not, but this study will evaluate that,” said Arun Rao, passenger rail manager for WisDOT.

Hundreds of residents along the route have also showed their support for the project by signing petitions asking for another roundtrip train that stops in their city.

Parkyn knows their concerns. “People, like myself, who have to go to the Twin Cities a lot and back, we drive,” said Parkyn. “Sometimes we take the train instead. Right now that’s not an option. Out east it allows you a lot more connections.”