The Minnesota Department Transportation is working with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and their partners to complete the Twin Cities - Milwaukee - Chicago (TCMC) Intercity Passenger Rail Service Study, the next step to improve passenger rail service between the Twin Cities and Chicago. Study partners will complete the detailed study of the service in two phases.
The first phase (completed summer 2019) evaluated alternatives for track and other infrastructure improvements required for a second daily round trip, along with costs.
The second phase (begun fall 2019) will generate a service development plan and a benefit-cost analysis. An environmental analysis is required, but is unfunded.
Funding is being sought from the Minnesota and Wisconsin legislatures to complete planning and to match funds being sought from the federal government for infrastructure improvements.
Current Work, Future Work and Studies Completed
Second Train Passenger Rail Service Study - Phase 2
The second phase of the Second Train Passenger Rail Service Study started in fall 2019 and is being led by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. The state of Wisconsin provided $300,000 to complete elements of the second phase, including a service development plan and a benefit-cost analysis by spring 2020. Second Train planning won't continue without further investment from both states, however. There isn't enough funding to complete an environmental analysis which is required to get clearance from the Federal Railroad Administration. And the project needs a committed local match to apply for a federal grant that could pay for up to 59 percent of track and station improvement costs.
Other necessary work includes preliminary design of track improvements, construction of improvements, and a determination of where passenger rail vehicles will come from. Options are to purchase new vehicles, or to lease vehicles. The project management team is in discussion with Amtrak to determine if refurbished Amtrak vehicles are available for lease.
Simultaneously, the Great River Rail Commission's mission is to provide information about the project to the public and key stakeholders, including local, state and federal elected officials and administrators. This information can help these officials make the funding and policy decisions necessary to make the TCMC Second Train project a reality.
Second Train Passenger Rail Service Study - Phase 1
The first phase of the Second Train Passenger Rail Service Study was completed in summer 2019. It evaluated alternatives for track and other infrastructure improvements required for a second daily round trip, along with costs. The scope of work in the study included a Purpose and Need Statement, Alternatives Analysis, and Operations Analysis to evaluate the most efficient service alternative option as it interacts with freight trains, and evaluate railroad infrastructure improvements needs.
Phase 1 reports are here.
Amtrak completed a feasibility study in cooperation with MnDOT, WisDOT and La Crosse County, WI in 2015. The study found that adding a second daily round-trip train between Saint Paul and Chicago was the most feasible alternative for initial service with potential extensions to Minneapolis and Saint Cloud in the future. Adding a second train would offer more options to travelers, provide better eastbound reliability, and more frequent trains. Ridership on the Amtrak® Empire Builder within the Twin Cities-Chicago corridor is routinely high, exceeding 100,000 annually. A second train could carry 155,000 passengers annually.