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Coalition forms to increase passenger train service to Chicago Partners in Minnesota and Wisconsin will fund next phase of work

Saint Paul, Minn. January 7, 2016 - A second daily round trip passenger train between the Twin Cities and Chicago has taken another step toward reality as funding partners have stepped forward to complete an environmental assessment. A feasibility study completed this summer indicated 155,000 passengers annually would use a train leaving Chicago each morning and leaving St. Paul in mid-day on the same route as Amtrak’s Empire Builder.

A coalition of funding partners has committed to a majority of the cost of the environmental assessment, the next step in the process. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation will provide $300,000, as will the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority. The Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission committed $50,000 and the La Crosse Area Planning Committee recently provided $10,000. The analysis is estimated to cost between $850,000 and $1.25 million, but work can begin before additional funding sources are identified, possibly as soon as this winter. The Minnesota Department of Transportation will be the lead agency.

“We are extremely excited to see forward progress on adding a second train connecting these two major Midwest metro areas,” said Ramsey County Commissioner Janice Rettman, chair of the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission. “Adding another train would be a major step toward our vision fast, frequent passenger rail service.” Nearly 10 million trips per year are currently taken between the Twin Cities and Chicago using all modes of transportation. The commission advocates for 6-8 daily round trip trains at speeds up to 110 miles per hour.

The environmental analysis is proposed to be completed in two phases. Phase 1 would develop a more detailed service plan and a higher level of detail for equipment needs and railroad track capacity improvements. The feasibility study indicated a preliminary cost estimate of $95 million for railroad capital infrastructure improvements and $46 million for locomotives and passenger cars. These figures would be refined. Phase 2 would complete the environmental analyses which are needed because of the potential impacts of additional rail traffic in the corridor and improvements to tracks. The environmental work on the second train will be incorporated into the high speed rail project’s Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement.

After the environmental analysis is completed and approved in 2017, track improvements could begin and train sets purchased, depending on funding.

About the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission

The Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission is one of the leading authoritative voices on high-speed rail in Minnesota. Comprised of elected officials from 16 local governments, the commission advocates for the development of Minnesota’s first high-speed rail line within the federally designated high-speed rail corridor that connects the Twin Cities to Milwaukee and Chicago. The commission is a strong proponent of bringing high-speed rail to the Midwest through the scenic upper Mississippi River valley.

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