Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota High-Speed Rail Comission’

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.

St. Paul Rail Project Would Benefit Empire Builder

January 20, 2015

A proposed $1 million rail project in St. Paul, Minn., would benefit the operations of Amtrak’s Empire Builder say Minnesota public officials.

The Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission and Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority are urging the state legislature to fund the environmental analysis and engineering of a grade separation project in the St. Paul rail yards.

The project would ease freight rail congestion near St. Paul Union Depot, which is used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle/Portland train.

According to the county’s East Metro Rail Capacity Study, the east metro rail yard handles 10,000 cars per day, or 5 percent of the nation’s freight volume.

That represents 110 daily freight trains of Canadian Pacific, BNSF and Union Pacific.

County planners foresee that number growing to 160 daily trains before long, and they’re worried that any future commuter rail, high-speed rail or passenger rail service will have a tough time maneuvering in and out of the city on freight rail tracks.

Amtrak moved its St. Paul station stop from Transfer Road to the Union Depot in May 2014.

The UP/BNSF grade separation project would separate the Union Pacific Altoona lines from the four BNSF main lines.

BNSF, Canadian Pacific and Union Pacific have pledged $125,000 each while the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority will contribute $125,000.

Ramsey County and Minnesota Department of Transportation have also been in discussions with Amtrak about adding a second daily round-trip from Chicago.