November 30, 2023
Channel 9 Fox News ran a story about the Twin Cities to Duluth Passenger Train Service. Brian Nelson from All Aboard Minnesota was interviewed for the story. Passenger trains are making the news! The full story and video is posted here:
November 28, 2023
We wish you a wonderful holiday season, and as always, you our members and friends, are the reason we continue our work for more passenger rail service in Minnesota and throughout the upper Midwest. As we celebrate 10 years officially as a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit, we are truly grateful for your voice, support, and generosity which keeps us going.
Next year will demonstrate significant progress for all of us:
- We anticipate the 2nd Twin Cities to Chicago train beginning service,
- The updated Minnesota State Rail Plan being released,
- And the Federal Railroad Administration will announce its recommendations of long-distance Amtrak routes to be added to the national network. We will keep you posted on all of these developments.
For our part, All Aboard Minnesota is planning more public outreach meetings, advocacy and education to extend the 2nd Twin Cities to Chicago train to Fargo/Moorhead with a daytime schedule on the Empire Builder route, and begin public outreach, advocacy and education for the Twin Cities to Kansas City route.
Our 2024 plans also include a new video series, and expanded social media reach to engage new audiences, along with a communication, public relations campaign to kick off the 2nd Twin Cities - Chicago train.
We are very grateful that so many of you have generously donated with your membership renewals, and at our 10th Anniversary event. We rely on your membership dues and donations to enable our work with you to expand passenger rail.
If you wish to make a year-end donation, or add to what you've already given, we welcome your generosity. You can donate online here: Donate Here or send us a check at: P.O. Box 4212, St. Paul MN, 55104.
We want to leave you with the message that your voice has made the difference and made it possible to expand passenger rail in Minnesota. We have literally reached thousands of people across the state, and there is more support than ever in the Minnesota Legislature for passenger rail, and that is due to YOU! We thank you and look forward to many more years with you to expand our cause.
Thanks again for all who attended our 10th Anniversary event on Saturday, Nov 18. It was a great turnout! Picture of one of our founders, Jerry Ratliff, presenting below on how it all got started!
November 17, 2023
Per our most recent newsletter, the St. Paul Pioneer Press published an article about the issues at St. Paul Union Depot, the 2nd Train to Chicago, and Twin Cities Duluth service. Brian Nelson from the Board of Directors at AAMN gave the interview. Here's the article:
Internal Amtrak memo highlights concerns over St. Paul Union Depot. 2nd train to Chicago, route to Duluth in the works.
PUBLISHED: November 16, 2023 at 4:51 p.m. | UPDATED: November 16, 2023 at 4:56 p.m.
More than a decade ago, Ramsey County poured $243 million into purchasing, renovating and reviving the downtown St. Paul Union Depot, a 1920s-era transit hub that hadn’t hosted passenger trains since 1971. Situated on 33 acres of riverfront property off Kellogg Boulevard, the neoclassical train depot welcomed their return in May 2014 when Amtrak’s Empire Builder began rolling in a morning trip to Chicago and a return trip at night.
Transit advocates say discontent with Ramsey County’s management of the depot has created a stir within the nation’s long-distance passenger rail provider. An internal Amtrak memo reportedly outlines concerns about the county using the downtown hub primarily as a banquet facility.
That comes on top of worries about crime and loitering inside the cavernous riverfront depot, which is otherwise short on foot traffic. Brian Nelson, president of the rail advocacy coalition All Aboard Minnesota, obtained a copy of the Amtrak memo and recently forwarded it to Ramsey County leadership.
”It is not an official document,” said Nelson, who declined to share it publicly without the author’s permission. “It was written internally, for internal distribution. It offers some recommendations, solutions, at the end.”
Amtrak officials have sought to downplay the internal memo, which they said does not represent the organization’s public views.
“No one from Amtrak with any authority or the ability to speak for Amtrak said that,” said Marc Magliari, a Chicago-based spokesman for Amtrak.
A second trip to Chicago in 2024?
Nelson this month said a second daily Amtrak departure on the 411-mile rail corridor to Chicago is still expected to begin in 2024, as long planned, though key agreements have yet to be finalized between Amtrak, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Canadian Pacific Railway, which owns the tracks over which the trains would operate.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation recently released a public survey asking potential passengers what kind of ticket prices they would find reasonable between the Twin Cities and Chicago and what amenities they’d like to see on the new train service, such as dining or beverage services and bike racks.
A MnDOT project page indicates track construction would run from 2024 to 2026, though Amtrak officials say they can begin service next year even as construction unfolds.
“We can start the service without all the improvements being done,” said Magliari, in a phone interview. “For example, there’s a second track needed at La Crosse, Wis., around the station. We can operate on the existing track while the second track is being built.”
County officials and other transit enthusiasts have long advocated for Amtrak to add a second daily trip to the Windy City, which would improve service reliability and inject more activity into the Union Depot’s cavernous concourse, head house and waiting room, where homeless visitors and panhandlers sometimes outnumber passengers or patrons of the depot’s bar and bike shop. Those are two of the few vendors that have stuck around amid sluggish pedestrian traffic. A short-lived ice cream and cotton candy store recently closed at the location.
Emergency homeless shelter
During three frigid nights of a cold snap in late January 2019, the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office used the depot as an emergency homeless shelter for 100 people.
The next week, the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners all but vowed not to do so again.
Nelson said key personnel within Amtrak recently highlighted problems deboarding trains into what they describe as an uncomfortable atmosphere.
“This report is currently circulating within Amtrak’s operating departments and details concerns these personnel have with crime, prostitution, vagrants, drug usage and other issues that threaten both passenger and employee safety,” reads a summary of the memo in All Aboard Minnesota’s November newsletter.
Loitering isn’t the only challenge.
The county has roped and curtained off much of the waiting room, reserving the space for leased events such as weddings, blood drives, Christmas markets, fundraisers and even for a time a church service. Some of those events play loud music that drowns out announcements about train departures, and passengers are left to queue up in a narrow corridor, outside the event area, which offers limited seating.
Ramsey County Commissioner Rafael Ortega, who chairs the county’s Regional Rail Authority, blasted the memo as irrelevant. He said it’s little secret that downtown St. Paul experienced an uptick in crime during the pandemic, as did other cities, and that homeless visitors loiter outside the transit hub.
“We’ve met with Amtrak. We’ve taken all the security precautions. We feel good about how everything’s going,” Ortega said. “It’s not even a report. It’s a lot of hearsay, as far as I’m concerned.”
Ortega said discussions with Amtrak are on track, so to speak, and have extended to storing some of its trains at Union Depot.
“We’re working out the details,” he said. “These things take time.”
Nelson said he planned to meet with Greg Mathis, MnDOT’s state planning director for passenger rail, on the prospect of a second Amtrak train to Chicago, among other rail projects in the Upper Midwest. Mathis also was scheduled to give an update on passenger rail services on Nov. 18 during All Aboard Minnesota’s 10th anniversary gathering at the Edina Public Library.
Northern Lights Express to Duluth
All Aboard Minnesota also has doubts about how quickly the Northern Lights Express, a proposed passenger rail service from the Twin Cities to Duluth, would roll into action.
The Federal Railroad Administration completed an environmental review and approved the service development plan in early 2018. In May of this year, the state Legislature appropriated $194.7 million for the project.
Still, Nelson said it could be seven years or more before the Northern Lights welcomes its first riders, likely leaving from Target Field in Minneapolis.
“The term has been used that it’s ‘shovel ready.’ While the final design and environmental assessment were pretty much completed, they’re now at the end of their shelf life,” Nelson said. “Those reports need to be updated. To do that, that’s a process that could take up to two years.”
After that, negotiations would have to recommence with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, which maintains the 152 miles of tracks. The state would then have to apply for federal matching grants, which are expected to cover 80% of construction costs. “I think people were thinking it would happen faster than it actually is,” Nelson said.
MnDOT officials this month confirmed they have applied to the federal government for the 80% match, and are hopeful of getting Northern Lights rolling sooner rather than later.
November 1, 2023
In this issue:
- St. Paul Union Depot Issues - 2nd Twin Cities to Chicago train
- Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission Annual Meeting
- Northern Lights Express - likely many years before service begins
- Let's Celebrate - AAMN 10th Anniversary!
1. St. Paul Union Depot Issues:
Amtrak operating personnel recently provided All Aboard Minnesota with an internally generated report about safety issues at the Saint Paul Union Depot (SPUD). This report is currently circulating within Amtrak’s operating departments and details concerns these personnel have with crime, prostitution, vagrants, drug usage and other issues that threaten both passenger and employee safety. The report also highlights a conflict between using the building as a multi-modal transportation hub or a banquet facility. When the concourse is used for events, passengers are forced to wait in a narrow corridor with minimal seating and exposed to very loud music making train related announcements impossible to hear. This situation also causes congestion when passengers are boarding and detraining.
The AAMN board forwarded the report to Ramsey County Commissioners Ortega, Trista Matascastillo, and Ramsey County Transportation Planner Kevin Roggenbuck, to make them aware of these concerns and offering our help for possible solutions. Commissioner Ortega responded that they will set up meetings with Amtrak to resolve these issues. We understand there have been some very informal discussions within Amtrak that if conditions don't improve at SPUD, Amtrak may move their operations back to their former station at Midway. We will keep you posted but if you experience any issues at SPUD please report these to us.
Late this summer, AAMN received information from Amtrak that the 2nd Twin Cities to Chicago train might begin service as early as Sept. or Nov 2023! But we recently learned that the operating agreements between Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Amtrak, and Canadian Pacific Railway have not yet been signed. Also impacting operations are the issues with St. Paul Union Depot as outlined above. We have been told that service could begin in the fall of 2024, or maybe even in the spring of 2024. Greg Mathis from MnDOT will give an update at our 10th Anniversary event (more details below). All Aboard Minnesota will stay on top of this developing situation and once we know when service begins we will publicize the start up with multi-channel communications. Stay tuned!
2. Midwest Interstate Rail Passenger Commission Annual Meeting
The Interstate Rail Passenger Commission (MIPRC) held its annual meeting last month in Normal, Ill. This eight-state commission is responsible for helping states build out their state rail plans and building out a broader mid-west passenger rail plan. Most states are waiting for the Federal Railroad Administration to select corridors state DOT's have applied for (the FRA will help with study money and planning resources for corridors selected), which will be announced in November or December. Some of the highlights included Michigan, which seeks to expand service frequencies on all three of their state corridor routes, and increase speeds to 110 mph; Wisconsin, which wants to extend service from Milwaukee to Green Bay, and Madison, along with a third Twin Cities to Chicago train routed through Eau Claire, WI; Oklahoma which seeks to connect the Heartland Flyer with the Southwest Chief in either Kansas City or Newton, and Indiana which wants to increase speed between Indianapolis and Chicago along with making the Cardinal long distance train daily.
The MIPRC itself applied for a $5M federal grant to build out the mid-west passenger rail plan which was not granted. Minnesota gains new representation on the Council with Senator Rob Kupec from Moorhead replacing Rep. Alice Hausman who retired. Senator Kupec is a strong proponent of adding daytime passenger service from St. Paul to Fargo/Moorhead, which AAMN has worked on for years. We look forward to a strong partnership with Senator Kupec.
3. Northern Lights Express - Twin Cities to Duluth - likely many years in the future:
Sources close to this project have informed AAMN that the Northern Lights Express is nowhere near "shovel ready" as is often citied. The final design and construction study, along with the environmental impact study - both necessary to secure federal grants, are at the end of their "shelf lives" and need to be updated. That updating will take approximately two years and then negotiations with BNSF Railway will need to be restarted. After that, federal matching grants will need to be obtained before construction could begin to upgrade the existing freight railway for passenger train speeds. This entire process could take anywhere from seven to ten years we have been told. Greg Mathis will update us on this project also at our 10th Anniversary event.
4. Let's Celebrate!
2023 officially marks 10 years for All Aboard Minnesota as a 501 (C) (3) organization! A celebration event is planned for Saturday November 18 at 1:00pm at the Edina Public Library (corner of Hwy 100 and 50th street) We will provide a light lunch and an exciting program! It will be free for all of our members and friends. Invites, both email and mail, have been sent to you and the event with all of the details are posted here: All Aboard Minnesota is 10 Years Old! Let's Celebrate! • Please register and attend. We look forward to seeing you!
We could not have achieved this milestone without your generosity, activism and support. We are very grateful to all of our members, friends, colleagues, and partner organizations.
August 24, 2023
In this issue:
- Many developments for passenger rail!
- 2nd Twin Cities to Chicago Train Update
- St. Paul to Fargo corridor passenger rail study
- All Aboard Minnesota to celebrate 10 years as a 501 (C) (3)
1. Federal Railroad Administration Long Distance Study and Corridor ID Program:
The FRA held its second stakeholder meeting in July 2023 for a progress report on the long-distance passenger rail study. As part of that study, the FRA is encouraging all stakeholders (All Aboard Minnesota is a non-profit stakeholder representing Amtrak passengers) to reach out to their audiences to provide input to the study. We sent out an email to our members and friends in early August asking them to provide input directly to the FRA. Many of you reported back that you did just that! Thank you!
That email along with the FRA study progress report and materials is posted on the All Aboard Minnesota website in the news section. The third stakeholder meeting will be in January of 2024, where the FRA will reveal what routes will be included in the report to Congress, due in the summer of 2024. We will definitely keep you posted on these developments.
In October 2023, the FRA will reveal the first round of new and expanded state passenger rail corridors it has selected around the country. The FRA will provide $500,000 for each corridor it selects and will work with state DOT's to develop out these corridors. It is our understanding that MnDOT selected the Northern Lights Express - Twin Cities to Duluth corridor in its initial application to update the final design and engineering study.
The Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission will hold its annual meeting in late Sept. in which eight Mid-west state DOT's will report on their passenger rail corridor initiatives. As we did last year, AAMN members will attend, and we will report on what we learn.
Between the FRA long distance study, the Corridor ID program, and the new trains for Minnesota such as the 2nd train to Chicago and the Northern Lights Express service between the Twin Cities and Duluth, there are a lot of developments now and in the future to be watching for. We will certainly keep you posted.
2. 2nd Twin Cities to Chicago train update:
Talk has surfaced that the 2nd Twin Cities to Chicago train could begin service as early as next month, but All Aboard Minnesota received information recently that the operating agreements between the states have not yet been signed. We also learned that the 2nd train will be an extension of a Hiawatha train (between Chicago and Milwaukee) and will be comprised of legacy Horizon equipment. The schedule will be close to what we have previously published, with an eastbound departure from St. Paul at around 11:30am, and a westbound departure from Chicago of approximately 10:30am. Running times will be around seven- and one-half hours. Of course, anything can change and once we know for sure when service begins, we will send out an alert, along with postings on Facebook and our site. Stay Tuned!!
Here is the 2nd train schedule as we believe right now
3. St. Paul to Fargo/Moorhead passenger rail corridor study update:
In a recent meeting with MnDOT, All Aboard Minnesota learned that the study will be in two phases:
A. The first study will be an analysis of the Northstar Commuter Rail service, being commissioned now and scheduled to be presented to the Minnesota legislature in February 2024.
B. The second phase of the study will be an analysis of the entire St. Paul to Fargo corridor, and as we understand it a recommendation how to serve this corridor. The study will be commissioned in early 2024 and will be presented to the Minnesota legislature in early 2025. All Aboard Minnesota has long advocated for daytime passenger service in this corridor, currently served by the Empire Builder, and strongly believes the corridor could support more frequencies. This could be impacted by the FRA long distance study if the report recommends restoration of the North Coast Hiawatha, which as of right now, seems fairly likely.
4. Save the date and Let's Celebrate!
2023 officially marks 10 years for All Aboard Minnesota as a 501 (C) (3) organization! This event is planned for Saturday November 18 during the lunch hour, and we will provide a light lunch and an exciting program! It will be free for all of our members and friends. We will send out an invite to all of our members and friends in late September containing all the details.
We could not have achieved this milestone without your generosity, activism and support. We are very grateful to all of our members, friends, colleagues, and partner organizations. We hope to see you there, stay tuned!
August 6, 2023
June 8, 2023
The historic Transportation Bill recently passed by the Minnesota Legislature is making news not only in Minnesota, but in Fargo North Dakota as well. Recently, Brian Nelson of All Aboard Minnesota was interviewed by StreetsMN to discuss the impact of the Transportation Bill on passenger rail, and the Fargo Forum discussed with Brian what the St. Paul to Fargo passenger rail corridor study might look like.
As a side note, All Aboard Minnesota conducted an "Outreach" session in Fargo/Moorhead in October 2019 for business, civic, educational leaders and the general public to discuss what daytime passenger rail service would look like in the St. Paul to Fargo corridor on the current Empire Builder route. Interest there was very high, and it was our most highly attended Outreach session. Interest remains high there and in the communities along the corridor, such as Wadena, Staples, Detroit Lakes, Little Falls, St. Cloud, and Anoka.
Click on the links below to listen to the StreetsMN Podcast and the Fargo Forum article:
Fargo Forum Article
June 2, 2023
Streets MN published a podcast to recap some of the highlights of the ground breaking and game changing Transportation Bill passed by the Minnesota Legislature in 2023. The podcast encompasses some of the forces at work that brought this all about, transit funding, bike and trails, and new passenger rail services funded in the legislation. Ian Buck from Streets MN interviews Brian Nelson with All Aboard Minnesota as a part of this podcast about the exciting developments in store for more passenger rail.
Click Here: Streets MN Podcast
May 23, 2023
In this issue:
- Historic and game changing investment for passenger rail in Minnesota!
- All Aboard Minnesota to celebrate 10 years as a 501 (C) (3)
- St. Paul Union Depot Train Days June 3-4
The Minnesota legislature has just passed a truly historic and groundbreaking transportation bill which tremendously improves the passenger rail scene in Minnesota! After decades of only Empire Builder service, Minnesota will see two new trains roll in the coming years, the most since 1985!
1. The Minnesota House and Senate Transportation Conference Committee included in the final Transportation bill $195M to fully fund the Northern Lights Express (NLX) service between Minneapolis, and Duluth.
This money allows the state to apply for a federal match which will provide all the construction needs to enable four round trips a day running at 90mph on Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway tracks.
The money also allows MnDOT to buy into the new Midwest Passenger Car Pool, which features the new Siemen coaches now beginning operation on other routes in the Midwest. These new cars could run on NLX, as well as the new 2nd Train between the Twin Cities and Chicago. Once all the funding is secured, the construction will take approximately three years to complete.
The service will be competitive with drive times, and new stations will be constructed in Coon Rapids (which will also serve as an Empire Builder stop to serve the northwest metro area), Cambridge, Hinckley, Superior, WI and Duluth. An estimated 700,000 are expected to use the service annually. The last time trains ran between the Twin Cities and Duluth was 1985.
2. The 2nd Twin Cities to Chicago train is now fully funded!
The Transportation bill provides operational support funding with $1.8M in 2024, and $3.2M in 2025 for the service which leverages a federal grant. The infrastructure funding was put in place through a $10M state grant last session, which also matches a federal grant. The operational funding was the last piece of the puzzle to get in place, so it seems that all signals are green!
Wisconsin has already committed the funding necessary. The 2nd train could begin rolling as early as this fall, but all construction and infrastructure upgrades will not be completed until mid 2025. As we understand it, Amtrak has named this new train the "Great River Route Service." We will definitely keep you posted as we hear more.
3. The Transportation bill includes $4M for MnDOT to study the St. Paul to Fargo/Moorhead passenger rail corridor.
This study will provide a comprehensive view of the needs of the corridor, such as recommendations for the Northstar Commuter rail service between Minneapolis and Big Lake, and also identify needs for perhaps new long distance passenger rail between St. Paul and Fargo.
All Aboard Minnesota has long advocated for St. Paul to Fargo daytime passenger rail service, and there is strong support from online communities along the route. The long-distance service we propose is on the Empire Builder route between St. Paul, St. Cloud, and Fargo. We will keep you posted as this study develops.
4. Your voice makes a difference!
We are truly grateful for all of our members and friends that have contacted legislators not only this year but in years past advocating for more rail passenger service. We have been told that over the years, the conversation has changed as awareness has grown in the legislature about the positive impact passenger rail can provide for Minnesotans!
Yes, there are those that do not support passenger rail in the legislature, but this year, legislators broke through and provided historic funding to make NLX and the 2nd train possible. Both of these new services will build out the MnDOT state rail plan and provide new passenger rail service for hundreds of thousands of people, a real game changer! Your voice helped to make all of this happen, and we are truly thankful. Citizen advocacy works!
5. Save the date and Let’s Celebrate!
2023 officially marks 10 years for All Aboard Minnesota as a 501 (C) (3) organization! This event is planned for Saturday October 14 during the lunch hour, and we will provide a light lunch and an exciting program! It will be free for all of our members and friends. As details emerge, we will certainly keep you posted. We could not have achieved this milestone without your generosity, activism and support. We are very grateful to all of our members, friends, colleagues, and partner organizations. We hope to see you there, stay tuned!
6. St. Paul Union Depot celebrates Train Days on June 3-4, with an emphasis on steam!
All Aboard Minnesota will be there both days; stop by and talk with us. There is a full description of this years event on the events page on this site.
May 8, 2023
First, The Good News!
Both the House and Senate Transportation bills fund the 2nd Twin Cities to Chicago train, and they both provide money for the Northern Lights Express (NLX) Twin Cities to Duluth passenger rail service.
But, Here's The Issue
The House and Senate bills are far apart on the amount of money provided to fund passenger rail service in Minnesota, especially for NLX. The Transportation Conference Committee is meeting now to reconcile the differences between the two bills for final passage.
Please contact House and Senate Transportation Committee Chairs and tell them you want the House version of the Transportation Bill that fully funds passenger rail!
House Transportation Committee Chair:
Rep. Frank Hornstein
Email: [email protected]
Senate Transportation Committee Chair:
Senator Scott Dibble
Email: [email protected]
Other support in the House Transportation Bill, not provided in the Senate version:
1. Money to provide more MnDOT staffing for passenger rail projects and planning, which is greatly needed
2. The ability for MnDOT to buy into the Midwest Passenger rail car pool, which will provide new equipment for the 2nd Train, NLX and other new corridors
3. Money to fund a comprehensive St. Paul, MN to Fargo/Moorhead corridor study, which could extend long distance passenger rail from St. Paul to Fargo on a daytime schedule, greatly enhancing this corridor
Even though the House and the Senate Transportation bills differ in funding amounts, we are very grateful to Rep. Hornstein, and Senator Dibble for their support of passenger rail.
Please make your voice heard today! This could be the most significant opportunity to advance passenger rail service in Minnesota since 1985!
THANK YOU for your support!