Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota legislature’

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.

Northern Lights Express Proponents Have Their Say Before Legislative Committee Meeting in Duluth

December 16, 2019

Supporters of the proposed Northern Light Express got their chance to have their say before members of the Minnesota House Finance and Policy Committee last week.

The committee held a public hearing at the University of Minnesota-Duluth to discuss how funding can be secured for the proposed rail service between Duluth and the Twin Cities.

Speaking on behalf of the service was state representative Mary Murphy who said she isn’t looking for a time machine but “We have to learn how to travel into the future.”

Murphy is sponsoring a $4 million bonding bill that would pay for the engineering phase of the $550 million project.

Informally known as NLX, the plan is to operate four roundtrips a day over BNSF tracks between Minneapolis and Duluth with intermediate stops in Minnesota in Coon Rapids, Cambridge, and Hinckley. The trains would also stop in Superior, Wisconsin.

The service is envisioned as having a top speed of 90 miles per hour and an average speed of 60 miles per hour.

“It will change everything,” said Ken Buehler, chairman of the NLX Alliance Technical Advisory Committee about getting the funding approved.

Amtrak estimates the service would need annual funding of $17 million but Bob Manzoline, NLX Alliance executive director, said the funding is more likely to be closer to $7 million.

How the project will be funded has yet to be worked out, which means that the service is likely years away from being implemented even in a best case scenario.

Minnesota Fails to OK Funds for Duluth Service

June 4, 2019

The failure of the Minnesota legislature to approve a bill funding development of intercity rail passenger service between the Twin Cities and the Twin Ports means that it will be another year before the project can advance.

The service, slated to be known as the Northern Lights Express, would link Minneapolis-St. Paul and Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin.

The cost of getting service started has been put at $550 million. Much of that would pay for adding capacity to host railroad BNSF.

News reports indicate that the funding had been part of an off-year bonding bill that a special session of the legislature did not take up.

Federal funds are expected to pay for most of the project, but a state match is needed in order to seek those funds.

Amtrak’s North Star once ran on the route, but that train was discontinued in spring 1985 when state funding expired and was not renewed.