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|AMTRAK RELEASES SECOND TRAIN STUDY|
Amtrak has released its new study assessing the possibility of adding a second daily round-trip passenger train from Chicago to the Twin Cities. Amtrak currently operates the Empire Builder train that connects the two metropolitan areas as part of the long-distance service from Chicago to Seattle and Portland. The study concluded that the route between Saint Paul and Chicago is the most feasible for initial service with potential future extensions to downtown Minneapolis and St. Cloud.
"We believe a second train offers a needed transportation alternative for travelers, says Janice Rettman, MNHSR Commission chair. "And we believe that the necessary capacity improvements to the rail lines will improve the safe movement of freight through our communities, create jobs, and grow our economy."
|MNHSR Commission Chair Janice Rettman|
Annual ridership on the proposed second daily train, with a morning departure from Chicago and a mid-day departure from St. Paul, is estimated at 155,000 passengers. This is an increase over the current Empire Builder ridership of approximately 104,000 between St. Paul and Chicago.
"The demand is there," says Rettman. "The benefits are clear. We now urge the Minnesota Legislature to provide a share of the funding required to complete the next steps toward making a second train a reality."
The study was requested by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and La Crosse County, Wis. The study recommends an environmental review of the project, with public comment, and an application for federal funding. MnDOT, WisDOT and LaCrosse County are determining how to fund this step.
Statement from the MNHSR Commission
MnDOT News Release
|2015 LEGISLATIVE UPDATE|
During the Legislative session, the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission supported Ramsey County's request for $1 million for rail improvement. The project sought collaboration between the State and the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority (RCRRA) to fund an environmental analysis and engineering of a grade separation project at the St. Paul rail yards. However, no action was taken by the Legislature. The grade separation would have benefited Amtrak's Empire Builder passenger line by improving fluidity around Union Depot.
Learn more about the Ramsey County funding request.
Transportation Finance Bill
Although both bodies of the Legislature and Governor Dayton started the 2015 Session claiming new transportation funding a top priority, the session ended with the passage of a "lights-on" bill only.
The Governor had recommended the State commit to a major investment plan for transportation to fund the estimated $6 billion dollar gap that exists between funding needs and revenues in the next 10 years. However, only a modest increase in transportation funding occurred.
The bipartisan Transportation Finance bill that passed included $30 million of general fund spending and the base appropriations for counties. Included in the general fund appropriations were:
* $5 million for greater MN transit;
* $5 million for rail grade crossing safety;
* $3 million to the port development assistance program;
* $145,000 for emergency railroad track repair; (White Bear Lake and Hugo);
* $12.5 million to small city (cities under 5,000 in population) road and bridges.
Read more about the Transportation & Infrastructure bill (pg 51)
At the July 2 Commission meeting, agenda items included a review of Amtrak's report on the feasibility of adding a second train to the Empire Builder line. The Commission also adopted changes to its bylaws, approved a contract extension for RMS Communications, and heard a legislative update.
In addition, Tom Faella, of the La Crosse Area Planning Commission, shared a report on track improvements in La Crosse. Canadian Pacific Railway is proposing adding a third track along a 0.85-mile stretch that runs through La Crosse to increase its switching capacity and reduce congestion of freight traffic. If approved, it would be the city's second major rail expansion this year. It is anticipated the third
track will improve Amtrak passenger rail speeds between St. Paul and Chicago.
The Commission's next meeting is Thursday, Sept. 3.
Learn more about the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission at our website
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