Jeramey Jannene

Feedback Wanted On Proposed Second Train to Twin Cities

WisDOT seeking feedback as part of federal review process. 2024 start proposed.

By - Mar 25th, 2021 07:15 pm
Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago train map. Image from the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago train map. Image from the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is soliciting public feedback on a proposed second daily train between Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul.

The plan, known as the Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago (TCMC) passenger train service, would add a second daily Amtrak Empire Builder train with 13 stops in 12 cities. Approximately 60% of residents in Minnesota and Wisconsin live within 30 miles of a proposed stop or 15 miles of a proposed shuttle bus stop (Madison, Eau Claire and Rochester, MN).

The service is intended to provide shorter travel times, more frequent service and improved on-time performance compared to the standalone Empire Builder. A project study estimates that the second train would yield 124,200 new riders in its first year. Service is expected to start in 2024 with an end-to-end travel time of seven-and-a-half hours between Chicago and St. Paul.

The Empire Builder currently provides service from Chicago to Seattle and Portland, but east-bound trains are frequently delayed before arriving in St. Paul and the once-a-day departures limit the desirability of the service. The TCMC plan calls for a second train that doesn’t go west of St. Paul, reducing delays and providing enhanced connectivity between the communities along the route.

WisDOT, in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, has secured multiple federal grants to bolster the project. The partners received a $12.6 million grant in May 2020 to fund startup operations. A $31.8 million fall 2020 grant would be paired with a $21.2 million match to fund the project’s $53 million in capital costs. Wisconsin will contribute $6.2 million, Minnesota $10 million and Amtrak $5 million. The latter grant is intended to fund final design and infrastructure work necessary to accommodate the train. The majority of the infrastructure improvements negotiated with host railroad Canadian Pacific to accommodate the train would occur near La Crosse and Winona, MN.

The proposed final TCMC 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 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 is currently scheduled to take six hours and seven minutes in each direction between Milwaukee and St. Paul. On the TCMC, the westbound train would take five hours and 37 minutes and the eastbound train five hours and 58 minutes.

The states would jointly fund the operations of the second daily roundtrip while Amtrak funds the first. Both would use Amtrak equipment. The second train would cost approximately $12 million per year to operate, with approximately $5 million coming from fares. The states would split the remaining costs after exhausting the $12.6 million startup grant.

Similar to the Hiawatha, the TCMC would stop twice in Milwaukee. Once at the airport station and once at Milwaukee Intermodal Station. The Empire Builder does not currently service the airport station.

Feedback on the proposal, part of the environmental review process, is being solicited through the WisDOT project website.

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.

Categories: Transportation, Weekly

2 thoughts on “Transportation: Feedback Wanted On Proposed Second Train to Twin Cities”

  1. joerossm says:

    Yes, please. More of this. Car-free travel to the Twin Cities and to MKE/Chicago!

  2. ringo muldano says:

    Pious as hell Walker and his wanker buddies. They’re still around and Dunder stupid. The propaganda from MKE radio and Koch money killed the Hiawatha expansion project. The idea that WI “couldn’t afford” to use Fed dollars to complete for $800 mil, when this same ilk gave a $1.7+ TRILLION!!! tax cut to the top 10%? So much for fiscal responsibility.

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