Current Work, Future Work and Studies Completed
In 1996, the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative began assessing the prospect of improving passenger rail infrastructure. Its comprehensive report indicated the potential success of high-speed rail between the Twin Cities and Chicago. The Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission was formed in June 2009 based on this potential.
Second Train Passenger Rail Service Study - Phase 1
The Minnesota Department Transportation is working with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and with their partners on this next step to improve passenger rail service between the Twin Cities and Chicago. The project aims to move forward with implementing a second daily round trip passenger train on the existing Empire Builder route. The addition of a second daily train would greatly improve mobility and increase reliable travel options. The project is based on recommendations from Amtrak’s 2015 feasibility report that found that the proposed service would be a feasible next step. Study partners will complete the detailed study of the service in two phases. The first phase will evaluate alternatives for track and other infrastructure improvements required for a second daily round trip, along with costs. The second phase will generate a service development plan while completing environmental analysis. The scope of work in the study includes a Purpose and Need Statement and Alternatives Analysis, operations analysis to evaluate the most efficient option with freight trains, and evaluation of railroad infrastructure improvements needs. The Coalition of funding partners includes the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority, the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission, and the La Crosse Area Planning Committee.
Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation began work in 2012 on a Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the 340 mile Twin Cities to Milwaukee corridor. This will identify environmental impacts and mitigation along the corridor along with specific areas in need of additional analysis as part of preliminary engineering. A Draft Tier 1 EIS will be produced, followed by a Final Tier 1 EIS after agency reviews and public involvement hearings. A draft Record of Decision (ROD) will be completed, and once approved by Federal Railroad Administration, a final ROD will be issued. Work on this study has slowed to concentrate on the Second Train Environmental Analysis.
Design, engineering, construction, and purchase of equipment are the next steps in the technical process to bring increased passenger rail to the River Route. This is true for both a second daily round-trip train and for additional high-speed service.
Simultaneously, the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission’s mission is to provide information about the project to the public and key stakeholders, including local, state and federal elected officials and administrators. This information can help these officials make the funding and policy decisions necessary to make these projects a reality.
July 2015 – Increased Amtrak Service Study ("Second train study")
A feasibility study by Wisconsin, Minnesota and Amtrak found promise in adding a second daily round trip Amtrak passenger train between the Twin Cities and Chicago. Amtrak currently operates the Empire Builder train between the two metropolitan areas as part of the long-distance service from Chicago to Seattle and Portland. The study concluded that the route between St. Paul and Chicago is the most feasible for initial service with potential extensions to Minneapolis and St. Cloud. Annual ridership on the additional daily train, with a morning departure from Chicago and a mid-day departure from St. Paul, is estimated at about 155,000 passengers. This is an increase over the current Empire Builder ridership of approximately 104,000 between St. Paul and Chicago. The study includes an assessment of schedules, ridership, revenue, infrastructure investments, operating costs, and equipment needs associated with the expanded service.
September 2012 – East Metro Rail Capacity Study.
This federally funded study conducted by Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority found that more than 110 trains travel through the rail yards near St. Paul every day, on average, and that number is expected to grow to 160 in the coming years. The growth will slow trains, increase shipping costs and negatively impact passenger rail service. The study recommends infrastructure investments such as adding tracks, cross-overs and a bridge over the Mississippi River at Hastings.
November 2011 – Alternatives Selection Report.
The Federal Railroad Administration and Mn/DOT selected the Mississippi River Route, following the existing Amtrak Empire Builder service alignment, as the preferred route for high-speed rail between the Twin Cities and Chicago. The route provides an opportunity to incrementally use a reduction in travel time and increase train frequency by phasing the build-out of the route.
The length of the full corridor, connecting the Twin Cities to Milwaukee and Chicago is 417 miles. The Alternatives Selection Report focuses on the 340 mile corridor that connects the Twin Cities with Milwaukee (the Milwaukee-Chicago connection is a separate project). The report estimated the capital cost to upgrade the 340 mile corridor at $2.4 billion or $7.1 million a mile. This cost includes all track work, safety improvements, and engineering costs for the project. The River Route was selected because it provided the most competitive and attractive alternative mode of transportation through the shortest travel time, improved train frequency, ability to be implemented incrementally in phases, and that it currently has Amtrak service.
February 2010 – Comprehensive Statewide Passenger & Freight Rail Plan.
This plan, completed by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT), sought to develop a vision for the state’s rail network, define private and public sector roles, identify priority passenger rail corridors and projects and enhance freight rail. This plan incorporates high-speed passenger rail between the Twin Cities and Chicago.
September 2004 – Midwest Regional Rail System report. This study by nine Midwestern states, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin, found that the Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul corridor had the best operating ratio of any major system city-pairs. The study indicated that the travel time between Chicago and St. Paul could be reduced by more than 2 ˝ hours, from eight hours to five and a half.
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