Amtrak Service Cuts

January 17, 2022

Recently Amtrak announced service cuts across the entire system beginning in late January and lasting until late March 2022. This is largely due as we understand to the Covid impact. If there are any updates on this situation, we will keep you posted.

Trains magazine just published the reduced service schedule for the national network, long distance trains: (Here is a link to the full Trains Magazine article outlining the implications of these cuts: Click Here )

Table showing days of operation for Amtrak long-distance trains

Amtrak pledges support for CP-KCS combination

January 7, 2022

Happy New Year to all of our members and friends! Some good news to start off the new year; yesterday Amtrak and the Canadian Pacific railway released this joint press release in support of thier new partnership with the acquisition of the Kansas City Southern railway. The subheadline of the press release states "CP commits to support Amtrak service expansions in two U.S. regions." This CP support includes the 2nd train frequency between the Twin Cities to Chicago! The press release goes on to say: "CP has committed to maintaining its industry-leading role as a host railroad and to cooperating with Amtrak to implement its long-term strategic vision to bring new and expanded intercity passenger rail service to more North Americans, including: • Increased frequency on the Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee. • Extending Hiawatha Service from Milwaukee to St. Paul, Minn., to create a second round-trip on the Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago corridor."

This is great news that the partnership between Amtrak and the newly formed railroad is off to a great start, and passenger service in the midwest will be expanded. You can read the full press release here: Amtrak pledges support for CP-KCS combination

US House has passed the Infrastructure Bill!

November 6, 2021

Now that the US House has passed the Infrastructure Bill, it will go to President Biden and signed into law. This is one of the most comprehensive infrastructure investments the US has seen in probably more than 60 years! Roads, bridges, waterways, electric vehicles, broadband, transit, and Amtrak will receive billions of dollars over the next ten years or so. Amtrak will receive $66B and it funds all business units of the railroad.

Here are the specifics of the $66 billion in funding for Amtrak:

· Northeast Corridor (NEC) Grants – $6 billion – for procurement and deferred maintenance on the NEC.

· Fed-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail – $36 billion

· NEC set-aside – $24 billion

· Funding for capital projects to repair, replace, or rehabilitate assets to improve performance and address maintenance backlog.

· Amtrak National Network (NN) – $16 billion – to modernize and upgrade the NN, including all 15 long-distance routes and 28 state-supported routes.

· Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement (CRISI) – $5 billion – competitive grant program to improve the safety, efficiency and reliability of intercity passenger rail and freight rail; leverages local and private sector funds.

· Railroad Crossing Elimination Program – $3 billion – competitive grant program to eliminate railway-highway grade crossings.

· Restoration & Enhancement Grants – $50 million – grant program to initiate, restore and enhance passenger rail service; eligible projects include restoration of discontinued service, additional frequencies, extension of existing service, and establishment of new service.

These funds will make new routes much easier to implement. This is more money than Amtrak has ever received in it's 50 year history. We will keep you posted on how this all goes forward. These are exciting times for more passenger rail in the US!

Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers Fall Meeting Announcement (WisARP)

October 14, 2021

All Aboard Minnesota members and friends are invited to the annual fall membership meeting of the Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers, on Saturday, Oct 23. You can either attend in person, or via zoom registration link below. Dan Krom from MnDOT and Arun Rao from WisDOT will give updates about Minnesota and Wisconsin passenger rail projects. Zoom registration link directly below, and full agenda with location and other details is posted below the registration announcement.

https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZIkc-iqrDIiGdJMyJpTO00C-TXvs6p18bwa

*After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Click here for the full agenda and other details

The Second Daily Passenger Train between the Twin Cities and Chicago will roll! We are calling it the Twin Cities Hiawatha

August 23, 2021

Governor Walz signed the Minnesota Transportation budget on Saturday June 26, which includes a $10M state appropriation to fund what we are calling, the Twin Cities Hiawatha- 2nd Train frequency between the Twin Cities and Chicago. This is a major win for us and all Minnesotans! The state appropriation will leverage a $32M federal grant for infrastructure work in Minnesota to enable the 2nd Train and provide the first step in realizing the MnDOT Passenger Rail Plan.

Again, We want to thank all of our members, friends, supporters, affiliated organizations and colleagues who contacted the Governor and their legislators to make this happen.

This would not have been possible without your active support!

So, what are the next steps and when will the train actually run? The first step is to put the process in motion to actually receive the grants which will happen this fall. The next and most major step is to then hire contractors to complete the infrastructure work which in Minnesota is largely in Winona and La Crescent. This infrastructure work is expected to take approximately two years. The final step will be to procure equipment, locomotives and coaches. There is a video posted in the Our Vision, Twin Cities to Chicago page of what the new train could look like. The Twin Cities Hiawatha is scheduled to begin service sometime in 2024. We will keep you posted as the project develops.

We issued a press release on June 26, which you can read in our News and Media section, Press Releases. There was good coverage in the Twin Cities and even the Fargo Forum published an article!

Omnibus Transportation Bill passes House and Senate!

June 24, 2021

The Minnesota House and the Senate have passed the bi-partisan Omnibus Transportation bill that includes money for the 2nd train between the Twin Cities and Chicago. The bill now goes to the Governor for signature. We understand that the Governor is supportive of the bill and will sign it shortly.

This means that the state appropriated $10M for the 2nd train which will leverage a $32M federal grant to complete track and signal work in Minnesota to enable the 2nd train. This work will also greatly enhance freight rail operations by reducing bottlenecks in Winona and La Crescent especially. This infrastruture work is expected to take approximately two to three years, and the 2nd train could begin rolling by 2023-24! Wisconsin and Amtrak have already committed funds for the 2nd train. The bill also included $500k for the MnDOT State Rail Passenger office.

This is a major win for passenger rail supporters throughout Minnesota and the upper-midwest, and it could pave the way for more passenger rail route expansion in the region. All Aboard Minnesota holds the view that the 2nd train will be successful right out of the gate, and will garner support for other routes, such as extending the 2nd train to Fargo/Moorhead for example.

As mentioned, this is truly a bi-partisan bill, and there was tremendous support from both parties. Transportation Committee Chairs Frank Hornstein and Senator Scott Newman were both praised for their leadership and compromise to make this bill happen. All Aboard Minnesota praises the State Legislature on getting this bill passed.

Quick Passenger Rail Updates

June 21, 2021

1. For Minnesota specifically - $10M is now included in the House Omnibus Transportation bill - the operating fund - for the 2nd Train. It passed the House Ways and Means Committee on Saturday June 19, 2021. This is a major development as initially only $3M was included in this bill. Rep Gene Pewlowski and Senator Jerry Miller in Winona expressed optimisim that the funding will pass. The bill now goes to the Senate - we will keep you posted. We thought our main chance for funding the 2nd train would be in the bonding bill. The legislature needs to approve the budget by June 30 to avoid a government shutdown.

2. Amtrak is refurbishing the Superliner fleet and restoring traditional dining car service on Western trains. All Superliner 1, and 2 series will get refreshed interiors, seats, carpets, drapes, etc. and the entire program is expected to take approximately three years. Freshly prepared meals along with new menus will appear on Western trains June 23, 2021. The program will extend to Eastern long hauls within three to four months according to Amtrak. Both programs are very long overdue. Per a ride on the Southwest Chief this month, which had a mixture of Superliner 1, and 2 equipment, all cars were extremely tired and worn out looking. Click here to read more and view pictures of the refurbished equipment:https://chicago.suntimes.com/2021/6/15/22533534/amtrak-upgrades-long-distance-trains-union-station-dining-cars-sleepers

3. US Senate committee approves bipartisan $78 billion rail and transportation safety bill. The Senate Commerce Committee approved a bipartisan $78 billion transportation funding bill on Wednesday designed to boost the competitiveness of the nation’s freight networks, improve its passenger rail system and make highways safer. The five-year bill includes $25 billion for passenger rail, mostly as grants to Amtrak. Click here to read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/transportation/2021/06/16/senate-road-rail-transportation-bill/

Wadena City Council passes resolution for more rail passenger service

April 22, 2021

More Minnesota cities are realizing the economic and mobility benefits that more rail passenger service can provide their residents. The Wadena City Council just passed a resolution asking the legislature to fund a second train frequency between the Twin Cities and Chicago, recognizing that the second train could be extended from the Twin Cities to Fargo/Moorhead, with a stop in Wadena. Amtrak's Empire Builder currently utilizes this route, but does not stop in Wadena currently and comes through late at night westbound and in the early morning hours eastbound. The closest stop to Wadena is Staples, MN. The last passenger train to stop in Wadena was Burlington Northern's Mainstreeter (before the BN merger, the Mainstreeter was a Northern Pacific passenger train that served this route on a daytime schedule. Full route of this train was St. Paul to Seattle), on May 1, 1971, the day Amtrak took over. The Mainstreeter was not retained by Amtrak.

St. Paul, Red Wing, Winona and La Crescent have all recently passed resolutions asking the Minnesota Legislature to fund the second train. All Aboard Minnesota just recently announced this with a Press Release. The Press Release is posted in our sites About/News and Media/Press Release section.

The Wadena Pioneer Journal covered this story. Click Here to read the article

Recent Minnesota House Transportation Commmittee Hearing - Questions about operating subsidies for the 2nd Train

April 3, 2021

On March 23, All Aboard Minnesota provided "testimony" for one of Rep Alice Hausman's bills to provide the state match for the 2nd Train frequency between the Twin Cities and Chicago. During that hearing, several questions came up about the on going operating subsidy for this train, such as "How will we pay for it if costs increase in the future?" All Aboard Minnesota provided more information about the operating subsidy, how the 2nd train project will ultimately pay for itself, and more context about how other "corridor" services are performing. Please feel free to use any of this content, including the attached document below on Midwest Passenger Rail Corridor development. You can read our response below:

During the House Transportation Committee meeting on March 23 regarding the 2nd Train and NLX, questions were raised about the operating subsidy and the ongoing support of such subsidies. Below is information on these topics:

  1. A Benefit-Cost Analysis prepared for the proposed 2nd Train Frequency (2nd Train) between the Twin Cities and Chicago Project and included in the FRA- CRISI Grant Application for the Federal Matching Funds, showed that over a 30 year period the 2nd train project would more than pay for itself with all capital, maintenance and operating costs included. There would be a net benefit to the state of $63M over this time period. (This does not include the economic impact associated with wages related to jobs created, money spent by Amtrak in Minnesota to operate the service or the increased economic activity associated with increased ridership, including additional tourism expenditures.)
  2. The 2nd Train service will be coordinated with the existing Amtrak Hiawatha service connecting Chicago and Milwaukee. Ridership on the Hiawatha service has doubled since 2003, and has increased 9% since 2014. (Source – WisDOT).
  3. The Hiawatha service in 2019 had an 85% farebox cost recovery. (Source – WisDOT). Operating subsidies have decreased over time for this service due to increasing ridership. This is a lower subsidy than most road projects which are subsidized with state and federal general funds and property taxes. Other corridors have seen similar results such as North Carolina, and Virginia.
  4. There are cost savings provided by the 2nd train vs expanding other modes: cost avoidance from highway maintenance, environmental, safety, upkeep to other modes, improved freight performance, and revenue from local investment and tourism, as an offset to annual operating subsidies. Please consider these specific benefits:
    1. The 2nd Train will reduce car miles in the corridor by 15M, reducing highway maintenance costs by $32M – (Source Rail Passengers Association (RPA) Study)
    2. The proposed 2nd Train frequency between the Twin Cities and Chicago alone would generate economic returns eight to ten times for Minnesota’s spending on the service (total economic benefit of $25M, cost $2-3M, estimated-(Source RPA Study)
    3. Taking a train versus a car reduces carbon emissions by 80% - (Source - OurWorldinData.org)
    4. Many states in the Mid-West are investing in rail passenger corridors as they see the economic and mobility benefits. See attached document for specifics (written by an All Aboard Minnesota (AAMN) member and compiled from MIPRC and industry publications.)

Summary -

A $10 million state match for the 2nd train will leverage a $32 million federal capital grant and a $12.5 million operating grant. This is a return of $4 for each state dollar invested. This federal funding for intercity rail (which also benefits freight rail) is not transferable or available for road projects. There is no significant competitive federal grant program for road projects.