February 18, 2021
The Minnesota House Capital Investment Committee will be conducting a hearing on Tuesday Feb 23, at 8:30am about the possible expansion of passenger rail in Minnesota. All Aboard Minnesota has been invited to testify. Our presentation will be centered around the economic, mobility, and environmental benefits of the 2nd Train Frequency from the Twin Cities to Chicago. As we have stated many times before, we believe this route has tremendous propensity for success, and we are laser focused on enabling this service. Once this service is running, we believe its success will prove passenger rail is a viable option and other routes can be added, such as service to Duluth, Des Moines, and extending the 2nd train to Fargo/Moorhead. Several of our partners will testify as well including Amtrak, Great River Rail Commission, Northern Lights Express, and others. Please join us! You can view and listen to the hearing through the MN House Live TV channel (page is updated daily, just tune in on Tuesday morning) Click here: https://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/live/2
December 6, 2020
Twelve Montana counties have officially founded the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority to advocate for the return of passenger rail service across southern Montana. The finalized joint resolution, fully executed this week, seals the commissioner actions and provides for the appointment of one representative from each county to serve on the authority. Gallatin County was the first to act on July 28, and Powell County the last on Nov. 18.
“Counties in Montana have done what has never been done before: establish the first regional passenger rail authority in the state. This will set the stage for re-establishing regular passenger rail service through the southern tier of the state — a transformational project for Montana that will add to and complement the Empire Builder along the Hi-Line,” Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said. “We hope to schedule our first board meeting of the authority in December or January and get this train moving!”
Per MCA 7-14-16, ”the purpose of the authority is to provide for the preservation and improvement of abandoned rail service for agriculture, industry or passenger traffic and to provide for the preservation of abandoned railroad right-of-way for future transportation uses, when determined to be practicable and necessary for the public welfare.” The authority constitutes the governance structure to investigate, analyze, seek funding for and develop long-distance, inter-city rail service to further the health, safety, welfare and economic prosperity throughout Montana. The Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority board comprises commissioner-appointed representatives from each of the following counties:
- Butte-Silver Bow
“The Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority will foster a more connected Montana,” Butte-Silver Bow Commissioner Shawn Fredrickson said. “Butte-Silver Bow is looking forward to working with the rest of the state to make it become a reality.”
“Glendive/Dawson County stands to benefit greatly both economically and socially through the restoration of passenger rail service,” Dawson County Economic Development Executive Director Jason Stuart said. “Economically, having passenger rail service and restoring the use of our historic passenger rail depot will draw more visitors and tourists through and to Glendive, creating greater economic opportunity for our Main Street businesses. With Makoshika State Park topping 100,000 visitors for the first time in its history in 2020, we have no doubt that providing passenger rail service to the gates of Montana’s largest and most spectacular state park will help drive visitation to Makoshika and Glendive even higher. Socially, having passenger rail service will be a great boon to our residents’ travel options, in particular for travel to the western side of the state. Dawson County could not be more pleased to be a founding member of the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority, and we look forward to lending our voice to this important effort.”
Strohmaier and partner counties began working on the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority in the spring of 2020. In September, nearly 400 people across the nation attended the virtual Montana Passenger Rail Summit hosted by Missoula County. The summit featured passenger rail experts from Washington, D.C., to Washington state and received support from Sen. Jon Tester, Sen. Steve Daines, Rep. Greg Gianforte and Gov. Steve Bullock. A recording of the summit is available online at https://montanapassengerrailsummit.org/summit.
December 6, 2020
FRA publishes rule establishing minimum on-time standards between Amtrak and host railroads
The rule is called a ‘huge victory’ for the traveling public as it sets a customer-focused view of Amtrak’s on time performance.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) published a final rule Nov. 16 that sets up metrics and a minimum standard to measure the performance and quality of service of Amtrak intercity operations.
The final rule is more than 12 years in the making since FRA and Amtrak were mandated by the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 to jointly develop metrics and minimum standards for measuring passenger train performance and service quality.
The final rule follows a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in March and FRA says the final rule accounted for “a lot of voices and perspectives.”
“We’ve listened and worked diligently to create the best solution for all,” said FRA Administrator Ronald Batory.
What does the rule do?
A brief explainer: Amtrak owns about three percent of the track it operates over, mostly in the Northeast Corridor. Most of the track Amtrak operates over is owned by freight railroads (host railroads). Amtrak pays a fee to use these tracks and the tracks are maintained and dispatched by the host railroads.
The final rule requires Amtrak and its host railroads to certify Amtrak schedules and sets an on-time performance minimum standard of 80 percent for any two consecutive calendar quarters. A train arriving within 15 minutes of its published arrival time is considered on time. Other metrics that FRA defines in the final rule include ridership, train delays, station performance and host running time.
“This final rule is a major accomplishment for this administration and a huge victory for the traveling public,” Batory said. “When I personally met with the leaders of Amtrak and the nation’s largest freight railroads earlier this year, I impressed upon them the need for the traveling public to have reliable passenger rail service, and the administration’s final rule reflects a commitment to improving Amtrak’s performance in the modern-day freight rail environment.”
Amtrak compiles an annual report card for the six Class 1 freight railroads and assigns a letter grade based on the number of delays caused to Amtrak trains. In 2019, the average grade for all host railroads was a “C” with Canadian Pacific receiving an “A,” CSX, BNSF and Union Pacific receiving sliding “B” scale grades, Canadian National receiving a “D” and Norfolk Southern receiving an “F.”
The 2019 Report Card found all 15 long-distance trains failed to achieve an 80 percent on time standard, while 19 of 27 state-supported trains failed to achieve the standard.
As part of the economic analysis of the final rule, FRA stated Amtrak could see reduced labor and fuel costs, as well as reduced expenses related to passenger inconvenience because of improved on time performance.
The rule also calls for quarterly reports to be published on the performance and service quality of Amtrak’s trains.
FRA explains the final rule’s singular on-time performance standard gives customers, Amtrak, the host railroads and other stakeholders a method to objectively gauge Amtrak trains.
“Everyone relying on one standard means that when problems arise, we can all speak the same language to work toward a common goal,” said Batory.
In reaction to the rule being published, Amtrak issued a statement that notes the railroad believes its customers deserve to arrive on time.
“This is a victory for Amtrak customers and for anyone who believes people and communities across the country deserve a world-class passenger rail network with schedules that you can count on. For too long, many freight railroads have put their cargo ahead of our passengers – in direct opposition to the law. This rule will help Amtrak enforce its rights when they are violated, in order to get you to your destination on schedule,” said the railroad.
As of press time, there was not an available statement from the Association of American Railroads, which represents the freight rail industry.
The rule goes into effect on Dec. 16, 2020.
November 5, 2020
Great article in the StarTrib about the outcome of the 2nd Train per the recently passed MN Bonding Bill. As the article points out, the $3M that funded passenger rail in a close to final version was moved to fund the Grassy Point Bridge project in Duluth, which will ultimately help NLX. What is interesting is that funding was also in the Bonding Bill for several freight rail projects in such areas as Moorhead, MN and Anoka County. Maybe we can get more legislators on board by using the freight rail benefit lens. Utimately though, we must convince the Minnesota State Legislature, perhaps along with cities and counties, to fund the states $10M matching dollars to receive the Federal Railroad Administrations CRISI grant awarded this summer to get the 2nd Train rolling. You can read the article here: https://www.startribune.com/minnesota-funding-for-second-train-to-chicago-thwarted/572974172/.
October 5, 2020
On Sunday Oct 4 Janet Moore from the StarTribune wrote an article about Minnesota and Wisconsin's CRISI Grant Award from the FRA to enable the 2nd train frequency from the Twin Cities to Chicago. As the article notes, the Minnesota Legislature needs to appropriate $10M for the matching federal funds to be realized, and Minnesota is the last link to make this all happen. Also, All Aboard Minnesota was quoted in the article. Please contact your Minnesota legislators, House and Senate, and ask them to appropriate $10M for the 2nd train and the matching federal funds to be realized. You can read the article here: https://www.startribune.com/second-daily-round-trip-train-between-twin-cities-chicago-edges-closer-to-reality/572627321/
September 14, 2020
And all long distance trains by calling your US Senator -
•Your task is easy. Simply email your two Minnesota or Wisconsin U.S. Senators, contact information below.
•Request that they set Amtrak appropriation at the $5B pandemic relief level to support preservation of daily operational levels for the national network, and tell Amtrak to run all long distance trains daily.
Senator Amy Klobuchar contact form:
Senator Tina Smith contact form:
•Senator Tammy Baldwin
709 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Phone: (202) 224-5653
•Senator Ron Johnson
328 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Key Supporting Points and Messaging-
- Reducing the long distance trains from daily to 3x a week service will disrupt millions of travelers who depend on these trains, and the connectivity of the national network will be broken
- Amtrak's metrics to restore daily service have been roundly criticized by RPA and others. See the RPA Hotline and website for more details
- Long distance trains have provided 45% of Amtrak's revenue during the pandemic thus far
- Since March, Northeast Corridor and state-supported corridor service revenues are down 90% compared with a 64% decline for the National Network.
- Long-distance ridership is down 62 percent compared with the same period last year
- Ridership on state supported and shorter routes through more urban areas is down more than 80 percent, according to an analysis by industry experts.
L-D routes retained 22% of year-over-year ridership
•Three times better than the 7% on short-distance state-supported services
•Nearly eight times better than the 3% on the NEC.
•From March through August, NEC hauled 30% of Amtrak’s passenger miles, State Corridors 30%, and LD routes hauled 39%
The main message based upon these facts is that it appears that Amtrak's move to reduce the long distance trains is more idealogical rather than pure economics
Remember, Former Amtrak Chief Richard Anderson's goal was to eliminate most of the long distance trains stating at one time: "We don't want to run alot of trains in the middle of nowhere where nobody lives." This is the excuse Amtrak needs, we need to block them, now!
September 13, 2020
Amtrak is moving forward with plans to reduce all long distance trains from daily to tri-weekly service beginning in October. Our Empire Builder is scheduled to begin tri-weekly service on Oct. 19, 2020.
All Aboard Wisconsin and All Aboard Minnesota are conducting a brief zoom meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 16 at 2:00pm to discuss the impact this will have and what we can do about it. Meeting Agenda below Zoom info: NOTE - Updated Phone information below
Please join us; here is the zoom link;
Date: Wednesday, September 16th, 2020
Time: 2:00 pm-3:00 pm Central Time (US and Canada)
Join Zoom Meeting:
*If experiencing problems while logging in on the link above, use the meeting ID and password listed below if prompted to do so.
Meeting ID: 841 1655 3300
+1-312-626-6799 US (Chicago)
Meeting ID: 841 1655 3300
Alternate Phone Number Options: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kc9V8esXcg
- Why is this happening, what is the reason, and what does this mean?
- The impact to you and your community
- What can you do to help prevent this from happening
- Questions and Answers
- Additional Resources
Please join us to learn how your actions could help to save the Empire Builder!
July 26, 2020
Appropriations bill would require Amtrak to maintain service to get funds. Amtrak and public transportation would receive at least $26 billion in emergency aid under the fiscal 2021 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development funding bill proposed by the House Appropriations Committee — but the money for Amtrak would be tied to a requirement that the passenger railroad cannot discontinue or reduce frequencies on any of its routes.
U.S. Senate Must Act Swiftly to Prevent Long-Distance Service Reduction. Monday, the U.S. Senate began considering appropriation levels within similar legislation. Without Senate action, Amtrak will still reduce daily operation to tri-weekly on October 1. This includes the Empire Builder. Congress did not act fast enough to prevent Amtrak from reducing frequencies on two eastern long-distance trains. Amtrak claims reductions are temporary due to pandemic related patronage declines. Yet history shows such reductions become permanent. Frequency reduction to less than daily ultimately ended operation of the Pioneer and Desert Wind routes in the 1990s. A 2005 Sunset Limited suspension between New Orleans and Florida has become permanent. It is difficult to restore frequencies once they are cut. Additionally, when frequency reductions were tried in the late 1990's on several routes, including the Empire Builder, costs went down approximately 15%, but revenues on average plunged by more than 50%.
What can you do? Your task is easy. Simply email your two Minnesota U.S. Senators, Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith. Request that they set Amtrak appropriation levels to support preservation of daily operational levels for the national network. If in Wisconsin, please email your two US Senators; Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson.
Senator Amy Klobuchar contact form:
Senator Tina Smith contact form:
June 16, 2020
Yesterday afternoon Amtrak announced in a service advisory that all long distance trains, with the exception of the Silver Meteor and Auto Train, will be cut from daily service to three times a week. The Silver Meteor will run four times a week and the Auto Train will still run daily. Amtrak is stating this will reduce costs by $150M in the next fiscal year due to drastic drops in ridership. Amtrak tried this plan in the 1990's, and what happened was that costs were cut by about 15%, but revenues plunged by more than 50% as riders found it difficult to adjust to the reduced schedules. We fear the same thing will happen now.
When ridership does return, as Amtrak is hoping, they have announced they will return to daily schedules but have not announced how they will decide that. It may be difficult to get the daily slots back on freight railroads, get employees back, and idled equipment up and running again. We fear this could seriously damage the long distance network, and it might never return to the state we have now.
We urge you to call Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, and tell them that Amtrak needs to run a daily service, as many people in rural areas as we know depend on these trains.
Trains News Wire ran a story - which is posted here. Thank you for your support.
WASHINGTON — Amtrak plans to reduce most long-distance trains to three-day-a-week service as of Oct. 1, according to an internal message obtained by Trains News Wire.
In an internal “Service Update,” Amtrak Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing and Revenue Service Officer Roger Harris told employees today that the goal would be “to restore daily service on these routes as demand warrants, potentially by the summer of 2021.”
Amtrak’s two existing triweekly trains, the New York-Washington-Chicago Cardinal and the Los Angeles-New Orleans Sunset Limited, will continue on current schedules. The New York-Miami Silver Meteor is being cut to four times per week; it will alternate departure days with the Palmetto, which operates to Savannah, Ga., on the same route, and with the New York-Miami Silver Star, which serves some of the same cities as the Meteor but runs via Raleigh, N.C., and Columbia, S.C.
Auto Train, which carries passengers and their cars between Lorton, Va., and Sanford, Fla., is the lone long-distance train which will continue to operate daily.
Harris justifies the impending cutbacks to employees by claiming the reductions “will save as much as $150 million [in fiscal 2021] vs. the losses that would have been incurred with daily service.” He also asserts “low ridership on long-distance trains has significantly increased our operating losses, which exceeded $500 million annually on these services before the pandemic.”
The “operating losses” Harris cites include allocated costs attributed to those services. Amtrak has historically declined to provide line-item dollar amounts which would detail these costs for any train.
Trains News Wire asked Amtrak:
— Whether a specific days-of-week operating plan had been devised for each train;
— If some trains will remain daily on certain route segments;
— What criteria Amtrak will use to restore daily service on any given route; and
— If state-sponsored service allocated costs will change on routes shared with reduced long distance trains.
In response, Amtrak spokeswoman Christina Leeds said in a statement, “We are still in the planning phase, so we can’t answer most of your questions at this time. Due to the long=term impact of COVID-19 on ridership, Amtrak has made the decision to operate with reduced capacity through FY21. We are planning 32% fewer frequencies on the NEC, 24% fewer for our state-supported, service and plan to reduce most long-distance trains to three days per week, beginning Oct. 1, 2020. Our goal is to restore daily service on these routes as demand warrants, potentially by the summer of 2021. We will use specific and measurable metrics to guide our restoration of frequencies and service.”
The New Orleans-bound Crescent pulls into Meridian, Miss., in May 2014. Amtrak says it has not yet finalized plans for cuts to its long-distance service and so did not say whether some portions, such as the New York-Atlanta segment of the Crescent, might still run daily.
The plan received swift and harsh criticism. In a statement, Rail Passengers Association president and CEO Jim Mathews predicts, “Chopping back to triweekly will mute any demand signal before it gets to management. The long-distance services ... remain essential to the hundreds of small communities across the United States with fewer options than Philadelphia or Boston or New York.”
He adds, “It's no coincidence that the worst-performing trains in Amtrak's system are the two less-than-daily long-distance services. Remaking the entire National Network to emulate this failure is no solution to a temporary — if dramatic — decline in ridership. Working with legislators and policymakers to find a way through is the right answer.
“Moreover, Amtrak may be setting itself up for failure by losing operating slots on host railroads, losing employees it will need to restore service, and possibly losing the rolling stock as well.”
Ross Capon, the passenger association’s president emeritus, recalls Amtrak’s attempt to save money with similar cuts in 1995. He tells Trains News Wire, “Experience from the 1990s shows that Amtrak's plan to run the entire long-distance network less than daily will not achieve promised savings. It also will inhibit the return of ridership Amtrak says is prerequisite for service restoration ... [just when it is] likely to recover. Amtrak should get the supplemental funding it has requested but with a requirement to maintain existing daily service on the long-distance network.”
While ridership and revenue remains suppressed because of the pandemic, long-distance ticket revenues climbed 71%, from $6.8 million to $11.6 million, between April and May. Operating with approximately the same frequencies, Northeast Corridor billing rose about 60% from $1.5 million to $2.4 million, and state supported trains generated less than a 50% increase, from $2.3 million in April to $3.5 million in May. So existing long-distance service, mostly operating seven days a week, provided almost double the May revenue of Corridor and state-supported operations.
April 20, 2020
Minnesota House Capitol Investment Committee has sent its Bonding Bill (HF 2529) to the Ways and Means Committee in April. We were very pleased that $15M is proposed for the 2nd Train Frequency between the Twin Cities and Chicago, Twin Cities to Duluth Service (NLX), and extending Northstar Commuter Rail service between Big Lake and St. Cloud. An additional $25M is also included for design and engineering of a passenger mail track between BNSF's Northtown yard and St. Paul Union Depot, which would benefit the 2nd Train terminating in Minneapolis ( versus St. Paul Union Depot ) and enabling NLX frequencies between Minneapolis and St. Paul Union Depot. This dedicated passenger main is something MnDOT has long wanted, and would benefit freight trains as well, which would alleviate passenger trains on freight tracks.
This House bill as of this date has not yet been transmitted to the Senate. We understand that the Senate is currently working on thier Bonding Bill version, and as we've mentioned before, we've sent a communication package to Senator David Senjem, which his staff did acknowledge. We will definitely keep you posted on the progress of both versions, and let you know how you can help at the appropriate time. Thank you!
Speaking of progress, Terry Brown of the Wisconsin Association for Railroad Passengers recently interviewed Arun Rao, Passenger Rail Planner for WisDOT, and made a video of that interview. Very informative interview about all the projects/progress going on in Wisconsin, mostly around the 2nd Train, and the additional planned Hiawatha frequencies. Well worth watching.