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Amtrak leases Union Depot space

Minnesota High Speed Rail and the Union Depot in St. Paul, MNIt's not here yet, but it's comin' round the bend. Amtrak's Empire Builder is expected to begin service to the historic Union Depot in St. Paul in the first quarter of 2014. The last train pulled out of Union Depot in 1971, according to this MPR blog.

The Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority approved a 20-year lease with Amtrak, with an option for 20 more. The passenger rail provider will use 3,800 square feet of space for passenger ticketing, baggage handling, VIP lounge, office and staff areas. It will pay the county approximately $144,000 a year in rent.

Empire Builder is a preview of High-Speed Rail

Amtrak's Empire Builder runs from Chicago to Seattle and back again each day, currently stopping at a station in St. Paul's Midway. More than 120,500 passengers passed through the Midway station last year, an all-time ridership high and equal to a 19 percent increase over 1997. Passenger rail ridership has grown at a similar pace nationally. Amtrak and the Minnesota Department of Transportation are studying the feasibility of adding a second round trip train from the Twin Cities to Chicago. The train runs on the River Route, from St. Paul to La Crescent, Minn., the future route of Minnesota High-Speed Rail.

Construction and scheduling challenges overcome

Union Depot stops for the Empire Builder were expected sooner, but construction and scheduling logistics have taken more time than expected to complete. Three freight lines, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Canadian Pacific and Union Pacific, move about 5 percent of the nation's freight rail traffic through downtown St. Paul near the depot. The tracks to move Amtrak trains in and out of the busy freight yard safely are complete, and signals and switches are in the testing phase.

Union Depot transportation hub

Amtrak passengers can connect with other parts of the Twin Cities by Metro Transit bus, which recently added service to the airport and the Mall of America, and other cities served by Jefferson Lines. In 2014, the Metro Transit Green Line (Central Corridor light rail transit) will carry passengers from Union Depot to Minneapolis, and future connections to Forest Lake (Rush Line), Woodbury (Gateway), Cottage Grove (Red Rock) and Rosemount (Robert Street) are in the planning stages.

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