Jeramey Jannene

New Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago Train Starts May 21

Added train doubles service between Milwaukee and Twin Cities.

By - May 1st, 2024 12:56 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.

It’s all aboard for a second daily train between Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The Borealis is the official name for the new train, known as the TCMC during its development for its connection between the Twin Cities, Milwaukee and Chicago.

Daily roundtrip service begins May 21.

The line will serve as an abbreviated version of the cross-country Amtrak Empire Builder that connects the TCMC corridor with the Pacific Northwest. The shorter route is intended to avoid delays and double the frequency of service.

But don’t expect to see the northern lights while you’re aboard the Borealis.

The eastbound train will leave St. Paul at 11:50 a.m., arriving in Milwaukee at 5:40 p.m. and Chicago at 7:14 p.m. The westbound train will leave Chicago at 11:05 a.m., arriving in Milwaukee at 12:34 p.m. and St. Paul at 6:29 p.m.

The eastbound train departs approximately three hours after the existing Empire Builder. The westbound train departs approximately four hours before the existing train.

Newly-listed Borealis tickets on the Amtrak website are available at $41 for an end-to-end one-way ride. Fares on the Empire Builder, which include options such as private rooms and fluctuate with demand, are higher.

Approximately 124,000 people are expected to ride the TCMC in its first year.

The train will stop in Chicago, 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 Depot with service to downtown Minneapolis.

Compared to the Empire Builder, the Borealis will offer an additional stop in Milwaukee. The new train will stop at the airport station and the Milwaukee Intermodal Station.

The scheduled end-to-end travel time is seven hours and 24 minutes, 27 minutes faster than the Empire Builder. Though the Borealis will make an additional stop and use the same route. Google Maps estimates it would take approximately six hours to drive the route.

The new service will be a boon for Milwaukee travelers heading west. The only current departure on the Amtrak Empire Builder is at 3:52 p.m. Eastbound passengers must currently leave St. Paul at 8:50 a.m. It will also allow westbound travelers to use the southside airport station, an option not afforded by the Empire Builder.

Service between Milwaukee and Chicago will not change with the addition of the Borealis. The train replaces one of the seven daily roundtrips made by the Hiawatha Service with the same timing and stations. Unlike the bilevel Superliner cars used by the Empire Builder, the shorter Borealis is expected to use the same equipment found on the Hiawatha.

In that respect the setup is similar to one envisioned in the $810 million Hiawatha expansion (which would have gone through Madison) rejected by then-Governor-elect Scott Walker in 2010.

Future riders in Minnesota will want to be careful which train they board. A proposed future train between the Twin Cities and Duluth is known today as the Northern Lights Express. It would include a stop in Superior, Wisconsin. While Minnesota allocated $195 million to cover the local share of the 152-mile project, the state is still awaiting a federal funding commitment and a cooperation agreement with BNSF, the host railroad, to advance the line.

Route Improvements

Over the next two years, a series of infrastructure improvements are coming to the 411-mile corridor, even as the actual train begins operating.

A $31.8 million federal grant was announced last year to fund the $53 million TCMC line. The states and Amtrak are covering the remainder, with the states also sponsoring the line’s operation.

Planned projects include improvements to a rail yard and the addition of a second mainline track in La Crosse, upgrades to the track in La Crescent, MN that leads to a bridge over the Mississippi River, upgrades to a yard in La Crescent to create a second mainline track, siding improvements in Winona, MN and improving Midway Station in St. Paul. The station, which was replaced by the restored Union Depot, would be reconfigured to serve as a crew base and used to prepare the trainset for a return trip. Approximately 77% of the infrastructure costs are projects in Minnesota.

The improvements were negotiated with host railroad Canadian Pacific Kansas City. The freight railroad will see improvements to its operations as a result of the work. The upgrades are expected to generate $34.7 million in freight cost savings over the next 30 years, according to the Wisconsin and Minnesota’s transportation agencies.

“This route includes eight stations in Wisconsin, and doubling the frequency of the service will better connect the many businesses, universities and tourist attractions along this corridor,” said Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson in a statement. “This expansion is thanks to the work WisDOT was able to do together with Minnesota, Illinois and Amtrak, as well as the opportunities provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. We will continue to work with federal and state partners to explore more passenger rail options in Wisconsin.”

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Categories: Transportation

2 thoughts on “New Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago Train Starts May 21”

  1. TransitRider says:

    The Hiawathas have coach seating and checked baggage service. According to Amtrak’s website, the new train will offer a choice of coach or business-class seating (more space between seats and perhaps wider seats in a 1-and-2 configuration) and a cafe car (food service); it will not have checked baggage service.

  2. lobk says:

    This is wonderful news for tourism (& local travelers) along the Hiawatha route, among the most popular Amtrak lines in the country. Sad that short-sighted Walker & GOP cronies put a delay on these great ideas years ago.

    It’s also too bad the Muskego Yard freight bypass project has effectively been scrapped by WI DOT. Failure to divert freight trains from going through downtown Milwaukee and the Intermodal will have a negative impact on the future of expanded passenger rail service along this busy route & will continue to negatively impact quality of life for the many nearby residents (noise, traffic backups, bridge deterioration, excessive vibration from frequent freight). Additionally, the very real danger of hazardous spills affecting the busy Historic Third Ward, downtown, and our precious rivers and lake remains high. It seems the timing of the Infrastructure Bill WOULD have been a perfect time to remedy this. Instead, we once again spent time & money on “studying” fixes without anything positive coming to fruition.

    Reminds me of how we continue to study & talk about reckless driving in Milwaukee even as more people are killed and injured because we don’t take decisive action to address controlling it.

    Maybe we should have a study about studying solutions!

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