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New Name, New Train: Great River Rail Commission Advocates for Second Train to Chicago

February 18, 2019 (Red Wing, Minn.) - In 2009, elected officials from 17 cities and counties along the Mississippi River from St. Paul to La Crescent banded together to advocate for expanded passenger rail service. In January, that group chose a new name for itself - the Great River Rail Commission.

The old name was the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission. The Commission formed in 2009 when federal stimulus funding was available for development of high-speed passenger rail. The Commission advocated for faster, more frequent passenger train service between the Twin Cities and Chicago, following the current Amtrak Empire Builder route.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) began work on a federal environmental impact statement (EIS) in 2010. Work stalled in late 2017 when a Minnesota legislative committee rejected federal funds earmarked for the high-speed rail EIS.

Meanwhile, the Commission had begun advocating for a new project, the Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago Intercity Passenger Rail Service (TCMC Second Train). A study was launched in July 2016 to add a single round trip passenger train at conventional speeds along the same route. The Commission felt taking an incremental approach to adding more service would gain broader acceptance.

"The name was a good fit when the Commission began," said Mark Vaughan, a city council member from Hastings who chairs the Commission. "But over the last couple of years, we found that the mission of the Commission has evolved, and the old name no longer made sense."

Updated Mission

The mission of the Commission is to advocate for expanded passenger rail service between the Twin Cities and Chicago, running in Minnesota along the Mississippi River Route. The Commission envisions faster, expanded passenger rail service in the same corridor over time. Members believe that adding the Second Train will demonstrate demand for additional service. A 2015 Amtrak feasibility study found the Second Train could generate 155,000 annual trips over the 123,000 trips already taken annually on the Empire Builder.

"We are constantly encouraged by Minnesotans to advocate for more train service," Vaughan said. "They're a little frustrated that it's taking so long, but we're committed to making it happen. The TCMC Second Train project has given us renewed focus and energy."

Great River Rail Commission members will be at the State Capitol in St. Paul again this year requesting funds for the next step in the process; environmental analysis, service development plan and Minnesota's share of final design costs. "We have a new governor and some new legislators that we hope are more open to funding intercity passenger rail," Vaughan said.

About the Commission

The Great River Rail Commission is one of the leading voices on passenger rail in Minnesota. Comprised of officials from 17 local and regional governments from St. Paul to La Crosse, the Commission advocates for the development of the Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago (TCMC) Second Train project, a daily round trip passenger train between the Twin Cities and Chicago. The Commission's long range vision is that the Second Train demonstrates demand for additional passenger rail service that leads to further investment in faster, more frequent passenger train service.

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