About the Commission
In 1996, the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative began assessing the prospect of improving passenger rail infrastructure. Its comprehensive report indicated the potential success of high-speed train service between the Twin Cities and Chicago. The Minnesota Department of Transportation began an environmental analysis of high-speed rail and the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission was formed in June 2009 based on this potential.
In January 2018, Minnesota Department of Transportation suspended work on the high-speed rail project. In the fall 2018, the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission began the process of changing its name to the Great River Rail Commission to better fit its mission and purpose; advocating for faster, safer and more frequent passenger rail service between the Twin Cities and Chicago. The name change became official in September 2019.
The Great River Rail Commission is one of the leading voices on passenger rail in Minnesota. Comprised of officials from 18 local and regional governments from St. Paul to La Crosse, the Commission advocates for the implementation 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, safer more frequent passenger rail service.
To increase transportation alternatives by expanding passenger rail service between the Twin Cities and Chicago, serving three cities in Minnesota and 13 cities in total.
To increase freight rail capacity along the corridor.
To bolster economic development in the state of Minnesota, especially in the Minnesota portion of the corridor between the Twin Cities and La Crescent.
To increase safety for rail and highway users.
The commission seeks to accomplish its goals through:
Actively supporting project development as a financial partner.
Coordinating with the Minnesota Department of Transportation and other entities responsible for project development to ensure accountability.
Advocating for projects with local, state and federal governments.
Implementing a Strategic Communications Plan to raise awareness with River Route stakeholders.
History of the Commission
The Great River Rail Commission was originally known as the Minnesota High Speed Rail Commission (Commission). The Commission was a joint powers board established in 2009 under Minnesota Law that enabled the member parties to cooperatively advocate for, analyze the feasibility, environmental impacts, engineering, construction, and operation of an integrated rail transportation system in the Minnesota High Speed Rail Corridor that included passenger, high speed, commuter, and freight rail along with its associated land use and development impacts. In 2010, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) began work on a Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for a high-speed passenger rail connection to Chicago, Illinois. The work included evaluation of route alternatives, preliminary conceptual engineering of needed capital improvements and simulations of operating up to six round-trips daily. Later in 2010, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker rejected $800 million in federal stimulus funds intended to develop a high-speed rail connection between Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin. Work continued the Tier 1 EIS until 2017 when Minnesota legislators blocked the acceptance of federal funding to continue the study.
In 2015, Amtrak announced the completion of a feasibility study evaluating the addition of one round-trip passenger train between Chicago and the Twin Cities, travelling at conventional speeds of up to 79 miles per hour along the current Amtrak Empire Builder route. The study found that one additional round-trip could attract approximately 155,000 riders annually and was recommended for further study. With funding provided by Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority, Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the La Crosse Area Planning Committee, work began in 2016 on the Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago Intercity Passenger Rail Service Phase 1 Study. This study evaluated several service alternatives to determine how the additional round-trip can be operated most efficiently with freight trains on the Saint Paul to Chicago corridor and integrate with the Hiawatha schedule between Milwaukee and Chicago. The draft final report found that with infrastructure improvements near Winona, MN, La Crosse, WI, and Columbus, WI, two service alternatives could be implemented with no impact to rail freight traffic.
The Commission has shifted its focus away from high-speed passenger rail and actively supported the Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago Intercity Passenger Rail Service Phase 1 Study. In July 2017, the Joint Powers Agreement was amended to clarify the Commission’s purpose as an advocacy organization that supports rail analysis and research for faster and more frequent passenger train service to Chicago, to revise its dues structure, and to memorialize the identification of the current membership.
In fall 2018, the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission began the process of changing its name to the Great River Rail Commission to better fit its mission and purpose. The Commission voted on the name change in January 2019; the formal name change process was completed by an amendment to the Commission by-laws in September 2019.
September 2019, Commission changes its name to the Great River Rail Commission to better fit its mission and purpose.
December 2019 - MnDOT completes Phase 1 of TCMC Second Train study.
July 2016 - MnDOT kicks off the Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago Intercity Passenger Rail Service Study (Phase 1), and La Crosse Area Planning Committee joins the MN High-Speed Rail Commission.
July 2015 - Amtrak Feasibility Study of adding a second daily round trip is completed finding that additional service between Saint Paul and Chicago shows promise.
November 2011 - Alternatives Selection Report completed leading to selection by the Federal Railroad Administration and MnDOT of the River Route as the preferred route for high-speed rail between the Twin Cities and Chicago.
June 2009 - Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission formed.
Each year the Great River Rail Commission releases an annual report on activities around the project's development and other relevant passenger rail information.
2021 Annual Report (Newsletter)
2020 Annual Report (Newsletter)
2019 Annual Report (Newsletter)
2018 Annual Report (Newsletter)
2017 Annual Report (Newsletter)
2016 Annual Report (Newsletter)
2015 Annual Report (Newsletter)
2014 Annual Report (Newsletter)
2013 Annual Report (Newsletter)
2012 Annual Report (PDF - 1.5 mb)
2011 Annual Report (PDF - 1.9 mb)
2010 Annual Report (PDF - 1.4 mb)
Stay current on all the exciting and informative meetings surrounding Great River Rail.
Commission Agendas and Minutes
Each file includes the agenda packet for the current meeting and minutes for the previous meeting.
View spotlights of Great River Rail Commission members.