Great River Rail Commission
For immediate release: October 19, 2020
Great River Rail Commission Reaction: Second Train Left Out Again
October 19, 2020 (Red Wing, Minn.) – The Minnesota Legislature adjourned last week after approving a capital investment bill that does not appear to include funding for passenger rail improvements in Minnesota, including a proposed second train between the Twin Cities and Chicago.
“We were cautiously optimistic,” said Mark Vaughan, chair of the Great River Rail Commission, which is advocating for the Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago (TCMC) Second Train. “We felt we had strong legislative support. We know we had strong community and business support who partnered with us in our effort to communicate the value of our project to legislators.”
The legislature was meeting in its fifth special session of 2020, required in order for Gov. Walz to extend emergency powers during the pandemic. The legislature approved a nearly $2 billion bonding bill which has been sent to the governor for his signature.
The commission had requested $10 million to match a $32 million federal grant that was just announced last month. A Minnesota commitment, together with funds committed by the state of Wisconsin and Amtrak, would have fully funded the capital improvements necessary to operate the service. The $10 million investment would have resulted in $40 million in upgrades in Minnesota to tracks, sidings and switching.
“We look at this project as a rail improvement project that benefits passenger rail and freight rail,” said Vaughan, a city council member from Hastings. “We’re disappointed the legislature didn’t provide funding this year, but I can promise that the commission is resolute in advocating for funding again in the 2021 session.”
State funding next year will be critical as federal dollars may not be available after September 2021.
Funding status of the TCMC Second Train
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced in September a $31.8 million grant for capital improvements that will help make the Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago (TCMC) Second Train a reality.
The state of Wisconsin has committed capital funds of $6.2 million to the project.
Amtrak has committed $5 million in capital funds toward the project, and committed to upgrading the passenger platform at the Winona station.
The TCMC Second Train Project previously received $12.569 million for startup operating costs from a federal grant.
The TCMC Second Train is projected to serve 124,000 riders annually in addition to the 120,000 trips already taken on the Amtrak Empire Builder service. The Great River Rail Commission is made up of 18 units of government in southeastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Its 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.