Posts Tagged ‘Ramsey County Railroad Authority’

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.

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.

Empire Builder to SPUD Maybe in March

January 11, 2014

Amtrak’s Empire Builder could begin stopping at St. Paul Union Depot in March.

SPUD has recently been converted into a downtown transit hub.

In November, the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority signed a 20-year lease with Amtrak stipulating that service begin in the first quarter of 2014, but no more specific date was provided.

Amtrak will pay the Ramsey County $144,500 in 2014 to lease 3,800 feet inside the depot with that cost rising 3 percent every year over the lease.

Work was also done at SPID to link existing freight lines with the station. The $23 million project came out of a larger $234 million budget to renovate the 90-year-old depot.

The project was completed in December 2012 and SPUD is now a hub for busses and bikes. When the Central Corridor opens in summer 2014, light rail trains will stop at the depot.

Kevin Roggenbuck, a senior planner with the railroad authority said some track and signal work is still being done in advance of Amtrak’s move.

The current Twin Cities Amtrak station, located in the St. Paul Midway area, is expected to be demolished or sold once Amtrak moves out of it.