Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota’

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.

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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.

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.

Minnesota Rail Plan Calls for 6 Stations, 4RTs

March 2, 2016

Planners of the proposed Northern Lights Express between Minneapolis-St. Paul and Duluth, Minnesota, are planning six stations and four daily round-trips.

Stations would be located in Minneapolis, Coon Rapids, Cambridge, Hinkley, and Duluth in Minnesota; and in Superior, Wisconsin.

MinnesotaThe operating plan calls for trains to average 60 mph. The cost of the service is estimated at between $500 million to $600 million.

If the project receives federal funding, it could begin operating by 2020. Estimated annual ridership would be 780,000 to 800,000.

Planners are just now beginning to examine sites for stations, which will include a building platform, ticketing, waiting area, parking and multimodal access.

The Duluth station would be part of the North Shore Scenic Railroad in a newly-rebuilt waiting area. Superior is to receive a new station.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is discussing the operating plan with BNSF, which owns the tracks to be used by the trains.

MnDOT will conduct an environmental assessment, preliminary engineering, financial planning and create an implementation plan.

Those are slated to be finished by February 2017. The agency would then seek federal funding.

SPUD Planning Rail Festival

February 23, 2016

St. Paul Union Depot will celebrate its 90th anniversary with a festival on April 30 and May 1 that will be co-sponsored by Kalmbach Publishing, the publisher of Trains and Classic Trains magazines.

The event will include historic and modern railroad equipment, discussions and photo sessions, vendors, model railroads and live entertainment.

MinnesotaEvent organizers said the festival will highlight the history and future of passenger train travel, the historic and current role of freight railroads in the region, and the area’s changing transportation trends and needs.

It will showcase SPUD’s role in the revival and growth of St. Paul’s downtown and Ramsey County since the depot was restored and reopened in 2012. The other co-sponsor is the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority.

SPUD opened in 1926, but construction had begun in 1917 and was slowed by World War II.
Nine railroads and more than 200 trains served the station, which cost $15 million to build and features a neoclassical style.

Among the special exhibits slated to be on hand are Milwaukee Road steam locomotive No. 261, the Amtrak exhibit train, Soo Line FP7 No. 2500A, Great Northern SDP40 No. 325 and Northern Pacific Railway RPO/Baggage/Coach No. 1102.

Also hand will be vendors selling books, model trains, and railroad memorabilia.

Until it reopened, SPUD had no passenger trains after its last trains departed on April 30, 1971, on the eve of the coming of Amtrak.

Amtrak returned to SPUD in May 2014 after a $242 million restoration project.

The Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder calls at SPUD daily. SPUD also is served by light rail trains and intercity and metro buses.

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.