Great River Rail - July 9, 2020


July 9, 2020 (Red Wing, Minn.) – Project partners submitted a federal grant request for capital funding for the Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago Second Train project to the Federal Railroad Administration in June. A number of project updates were a part of the submission, as outlined in the attached progress report. The highlights include:


  • Total project cost estimate was revised down to $53 million, just below the low end of the cost range of previous estimates

  • Wisconsin has committed $6.2 million and Amtrak has pledged $5 million as matching funds toward a federal grant to build track and signal improvements

  • The current funding request of $10 million from the Minnesota Legislature would result in $40 million in infrastructure improvements in the state, a 4 to 1 return on investment

  • Canadian Pacific Railway, on whose tracks the train would run, supports the TCMC Second Train

  • A federal grant for startup operations in the amount of $12.569 million was awarded to the TCMC Second Train project on May 5, 2020


About the Great River Rail Commission

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 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.

Amtrak to cut back Empire Builder, other routes because of coronavirus slowdown

Pioneer Press - June 17


The Great River Rail Commission advocates for the implementation of the Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago (TCMC) Second Train project. The Second Train would complement current Amtrak Empire Builder service. We are very disappointed to learn that Amtrak plans to reduce Empire Builder service to 3 trips weekly. Before the pandemic, this train was very successful. This reduction will take away Minnesotans' opportunity for a safe, comfortable transportation alternative - an alternative that serves stations in towns that don't have bus or air service. We urge Amtrak to retain daily Empire Builder service.

Amtrak commits $5 million toward another grant application


A second daily train to Chicago, with Minnesota stops in Saint Paul, Red Wing and Winona, is closer to reality following news May 5 of a grant worth more than $12.5 million to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. In addition, Amtrak announced May 7 that it would commit $5 million as matching funds for a federal grant application for the project.


The funds come from the Federal Railroad Administration’s Restoration and Enhancement Grants Program to initiate, restore, or enhance intercity passenger rail service around the country. A total of $22 million was awarded in three grants, including $12,569,200 for the Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago Intercity Passenger Rail Service Project. An FRA news release states an additional train will provide travelers with more reliable service at convenient times between Saint Paul and Chicago, with seven stops in Wisconsin.


The Great River Rail Commission, comprised of officials from 18 local and regional governments along the existing rail route in Minnesota, is pleased with the timing of the grant, according to Hastings Council Member Mark Vaughan, chair of the Great River Rail Commission.


“This grant reinforces a $10 million bonding request moving through the State Legislature right now,” Vaughan said. “If successful, those state funds can leverage more federal funds and the Second Train becomes a much needed back-to-work project for Minnesota.”


The FRA grant funds would be intended for operation of the service. Project developers will also submit a federal grant application in June for construction of track and signal improvements. This grant requires a local match – Amtrak’s committed funding, plus funding from Minnesota and Wisconsin in this legislative session would meet the requirement. With state funding and the federal construction grant, the project could be operational in less than two years.


Vaughan and the Great River Rail Commission maintain a second round-trip Amtrak passenger train between the Twin Cities and Chicago would boost the economy in a number of beneficial ways:

  • Create engineering and construction jobs to design and build $30 million in track and signal improvements around Winona and La Crescent

  • Support Minnesota businesses (as an example, Amtrak spent $60 million in goods and services in Minnesota in 2016)

  • Support tourism spending in Minnesota – 46% of all Amtrak riders are tourists

  • Connect Minnesota colleges and universities to prospective students in Wisconsin and Illinois

  • Improve safety and efficiency for freight, automobile and pedestrian movement along the tracks

  • Provide a comfortable, productive alternative mode of transportation


About the Great River Rail Commission

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 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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