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Train Capacity Modeling

Federal Rail AdministrationThe Minnesota Comprehensive Statewide Freight and Passenger Rail Plan estimated that in 2005 more than 9.7 million trips were taken annually between the Twin Cities and Chicago. This number is forecast to grow to 11.3 million in 2030 with high speed rail accounting for 1.7 million of the trips. Currently, Amtrak provides one daily round-trip between the Twin Cities and Chicago on its Empire Builder passenger train.

The Minnesota and Wisconsin Departments of Transportation are conducting a train capacity modeling study to determine the feasibility of adding a second daily round-trip between the Twin Cities and Chicago. The study will also be used by MnDOT in its Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement for future high-speed rail service which envisions up to eight daily round trips at speeds up to 110 miles per hour.

Assessing Capacity for a Second Daily Round-Trip

Over time, demand for travel grows with population, economic growth, and other factors. Amtrak’s ridership model (people-carrying capacity), is used to determine the feasibility of adding a second daily round-trip between the Twin Cities and Chicago. Expected increases in ridership for this 417-mile trip beyond the capacity of the current train schedule need to be analyzed well in advance to allow for planning, environmental impact assessment, funding and construction.

Train capacity modeling on the existing tracks will be used to determine whether a second Amtrak passenger train can be run among the many freight trains that also run between Milwaukee and the Twin Cities. The study partners include Amtrak, MnDOT, WisDOT, and the three freight operators that operate on parts of the line, which are Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Canadian Pacific and Union Pacific.

What is Capacity Modeling?

Capacity modeling considers many factors in determining the maximum number of trains that can effectively be moved between two locations in one day to meet the needs of the freight and passengers:

In addition, a capacity modeling study must carefully assess the line capacity, train yards, crew and equipment capacity.

Capacity estimates for freight and passengers are compared with historical ridership data, future growth trends and future ridership projections. Studies assess infrastructure requirements necessary to support increases to assure sustainable capacity and reliability.

Current Status

Capacity modeling for the feasibility of a second train, running between the Twin Cities and Chicago, was expected to be completed earlier this year. However, completing the modeling takes a great deal of coordination between the partners at a time when staff is also managing significantly higher levels of freight train movement. The Minnesota High Speed Rail Commission expressed their support for bringing the second Amtrak Train Study to a conclusion. The Minnesota Department of Transportation now expects to share results this summer.

Fun Facts: Did you know?

Since 1964, the United States has been exploring the notion of high-speed rail transportation, around the time Japan built the first Shinkansen line and before any of the European countries built their high-speed rail lines. [Federal Railway Administration]

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