Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota’

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 Interests Seek Federal Funding for New Route

November 17, 2019

Minnesota rail passenger advocates recently made a trip to Washington in search of federal funding for a proposed intercity rail passenger route between the Twin Cities and Duluth, Minnesota.

Proponents of the Northern Lights Express made the rounds of Minnesota congressmen and senators.

The delegation also included public officials from Minnesota.

Backers of the service, which would operate at a top speed of 90 mph, are hoping that with federal funding will come state funding from Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The Northern Lights Express would restore service to a former Amtrak route known as the North Star and which ended in April 1985 after Minnesota ended funding for the train.

Minn. Gov., Anderson Meet About Duluth Service

March 29, 2019

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz met recently with Amtrak President Richard Anderson to discuss the proposed Northern Lights Express project, but no agreement was apparently reached.

The governor said in a Facebook post that Anderson said the national passenger carrier is ready to work with the state on the project, which would reinstate intercity rail passenger service between the Twin Cities and Duluth, Minnesota.

Another Amtrak official expressed the carrier’s interest in the project during a visit to the state earlier this month.

The Northern Lights Express is projected to operate between a station near Target Field in Minneapolis and make intermediate stops in Minnesota at Coon Rapids, Cambridge and Hinckley, and in Wisconsin in Superior.

The 150-mile line would use BNSF rails. Amtrak’s North Star served that route through April 7, 1985, when Minnesota ceased funding the train.

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

 

Transportation Heads Picked in Wisconsin, Minnesota

December 28, 2018

The incoming governors of Minnesota and Wisconsin have announced their picks to lead their states’ transportation departments.

Minnesota Gov.-elect Tim Walz appointed Margaret Anderson Kelliher as the commissioner for the state’s transportation department.

She served two terms as the Minnesota House Speaker and 10 years on the Transportation Policy and Transportation Finance committees.

During her time as speaker, Kelliher oversaw the successful Transportation and Transit Funding package in 2008, which created an investment of new and dedicated funds into Minnesota’s bridges, roads and transit systems.

“Margaret understands the importance of addressing the diversity of transportation needs across our state. She is an accomplished leader who will bring people together to improve Minnesota’s transportation system,” said Walz in a statement.

Wisconsin Gov.-elect Tony Evers picked Craig Thompson as the next secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation .

Thompson was most recently executive director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin.

He also served as the legislative director for the Wisconsin Counties Association.

Duluth Service Moves to Design Stage

March 28, 2018

Proponents of restoring intercity rail passenger service between Minneapolis and Duluth, Minnesota, have moved into the design phase of the project and also are seeking money to fund it.

“The planning is done. There is no more planning that needs to be done. Now we are ready to build,” said Frank Loetterle, project manager in the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Rail Office.

Loetterle said MnDOT is in “extensive discussions” with Amtrak and BNSF, which owns the tracks to be used by the proposed Northern Lights Express.

Once capital operating funding is secured, the service could be in operation in about two and a half years after the final design process begins.

The project is expected to require between $500 million and $600 million.

Derrick James, governmental affairs senior officer at Amtrak, described services such as Northern Lights as “the future for passenger rail.”

James said a Midwest regional rail system of higher-frequency passenger trains would “stitch together the economy of the Midwest” while providing the connectedness that young people and the business community seek.

“If we want to keep the Twin Ports on the map, because we know we’ve got the quality of life here, to keep the young people, we also have to be competitive in connecting our universities, connecting our business community. A highly developed rail station with supportive zoning can be a catalyst for more economic development in the area around the station,” James said. “It’s not about the train, it’s about our economy and we’re building an economy that’s open to everyone and is accessible for everyone.”

Last month the Federal Railroad Administration approved the Northern Lights development plan. Work has also been done on an environmental assessment.

The proposal calls for four daily trips with intermediate stops in Coon Rapids, Cambridge, Hinckley in Minnesota and Superior in Wisconsin.

Plans envision a top speed of 90 miles per hour, but an average speed of more than 60 miles per hour.

The route previously had Amtrak service that ended in April 1985 when state funding of the route lapsed. The North Star had once operated between Chicago and Duluth.

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.

Minnesota Legislature Approves Legislation to Zero Out Funding of MnDOT Passenger Rail Office

April 11, 2017

Legislation pending in the Minnesota legislature would remove funding from the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Passenger Rail Office, which some believe could threaten work toward establishing a second Chicago–Twin Cities passenger train.

The departments of transportation of Minnesota and Wisconsin have been studying creating the train to supplement service provided by Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Amtrak Nos. 7 and 8 provide the only intercity rail service in Minnesota.

The rail office sought funding of $900,000, which it would use for planning work for the proposed second train.

If the funding is not provided, the office would no longer be able to lead planning work for the second Chicago-Twin cities train or work on any other proposed passenger rail projects in the state.

The planning work is also being funded by the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority and the state of Wisconsin.

Trains magazine reported that funding for the passenger rail office could be channeled through a bonding bill, but the majority Republican legislature has not favored funding passenger rail in recent bonding bills.

Earlier, 84 Republican legislators wrote to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao urging her to refuse $900 million in funding for a light rail line that was to be provided by the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton requested $1 million in bonding for rail projects that includes up to $500,000 for the second phase of a train study.

Minnesota Trial Rail Service Proposed

March 20, 2017

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed a $3 million trial rail passenger service between the Twin Cities and St. Cloud, Minnesota.

The service was part of his supplemental budget proposal submitted last week to the state legislature.

The rail service would operate for six months for the purpose of assessing whether existing service would be expanded to St. Cloud from downtown Minneapolis.

If the trial service become permanent, it would mean that the Northstar commuter rail service would serve St. Cloud.

At present, the service operates between Target Field in Minneapolis to Big Lake, Minnesota.

The trial service would involve one trip from St. Cloud to Target Field in the morning and a return trip in the evening. Passengers could connect at the Target Field station to the Green and Blue light-rail lines.

Amtrak is expected to provide the St. Cloud service. The national rail passenger carrier currently operates on the route with its daily Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

The tracks on the line are owned by BNSF.

In a statement, Amtrak thanked Dayton “for recognizing the importance of passenger rail, and exploring how Amtrak can further connect St. Cloud with the Twin Cities.”

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the trial commuter service would not affect the Empire Builder.

The Northstar system was originally intended to serve St. Cloud. But the service now ends at Big Lake because of a lack of federal funding to help pay to develop the Big Leg-St. Cloud segment.

Since Northstar service began in 2009, Big Lake and St. Cloud have been connected by bus service.

Dayton’s budget proposal also includes $850,000 for an engineering study to update a 2010 study of engineering costs and projected ridership between Big Lake and St. Cloud.

The Northstar service would end in St. Cloud at the existing Amtrak station.

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.