Second Daily Train to Twin Cities Moving Forward
Minnesota officials say federal grant will be awarded to advance project.
Federal officials are expected to announce a $31.8 million grant to substantially advance a second daily train between Chicago, Milwaukee and the Twin Cities.
That’s according to Ramsey County officials in St. Paul, MN, the line’s western terminus. The Pioneer Press reported that county commissioners openly discussed the impending award earlier this week.
The plan, known as the Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago (TCMC) passenger train service, would add a second daily Amtrak Empire Builder train with 12 stops.
According to the Pioneer Press report, the final configuration would not add additional service between Chicago and Milwaukee, but would instead have a northbound Amtrak Hiawatha Service train that arrives in Milwaukee at 12:34 p.m. and continues toward St. Paul.
An eastbound train would leave St. Paul at 11:47 a.m. and arrive in Milwaukee at 5:45 p.m., becoming the southbound Hiawatha that arrives in Chicago at 7:14 p.m. The setup is similar to one envisioned in the $810 million Hiawatha expansion rejected by then-Governor-elect Scott Walker in 2010.
The eastbound Empire Builder currently arrives in Milwaukee at 2:07 p.m. The westbound Empire Builder departs Milwaukee at 3:52 p.m.
The grant would build on a $12.6 million federal grant awarded earlier this year intended to fund startup costs.
The train would stop in Chicago, IL Glenview, IL, Sturtevant, Milwaukee, Columbus, Portage, Wisconsin Dells, Tomah, La Crosse, Winona, MN, Red Wing, MN and St. Paul. A light rail line operates out of St. Paul Union Station with service to downtown Minneapolis. The Empire Builder currently takes approximately six hours in each direction between Milwaukee and St. Paul.
A 2015 study says TCMC service is projected to provide 155,500 additional annual rides, more than doubling the number of trips in the corridor.
“In the past few months, we have heard from all of the station communities, counties, and members of the business community of their desire and support for the TCMC second daily round-trip, stating that it would improve their travel options and the ability to use the service as a tool to attract and retain businesses, jobs, employees, and residents to their communities,” said Arun Rao, passenger rail implementation manager for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, in February.
A WisDOT project website says the train could enter service in 2024.
A separate project is well underway to expand the Hiawatha between Milwaukee and Chicago.
Wisconsin has been working on expanding the Hiawatha from seven to 10 daily round-trips as part of a $195 million project. WisDOT received a $26.6 million federal grant to pay for a freight yard bypass in the Menomonee Valley in March, $2.7 million to fund a signalization project to speed up trains through downtown Milwaukee in June 2019 and a $5 million award to build a second platform at the Milwaukee Airport Rail Station in March 2019. All three grants required a state match. The Illinois-portion of the project remains on hold.
The news isn’t all good for Midwest travelers. Amtrak, citing falling ridership during the COVID-19 pandemic, will cut the Empire Builder to three trips per week starting October 19th until at least summer 2021.
The state-supported Hiawatha originally had its scheduled substantially reduced, but some service has been restored.
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