StarTribune coverage of the 2nd Train between the Twin Cities and Chicago
June 29, 2021
The StarTribune published an article about the 2nd train. Read it here: https://www.startribune.com/it-s-a-go-for-second-daily-train-to-chicago-from-st-paul/600072980/
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:
- 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.)
- 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).
- 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.
- 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:
- The 2nd Train will reduce car miles in the corridor by 15M, reducing highway maintenance costs by $32M – (Source Rail Passengers Association (RPA) Study)
- 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)
- Taking a train versus a car reduces carbon emissions by 80% - (Source - OurWorldinData.org)
- 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.)
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.
2021 Passenger Rail Legislation in the Minnesota House and Senate
March 11, 2021
Updated April 9 (authors added, Senate Companion files, etc.)- Here is a summary of the Minnesota House bills and companion bills in the Minnesota Senate to fund more passenger rail. If you have any questions on these bills please contact us. We are happy to answer any questions you may have. Please call the Governorn and your legislators; ask them to support these bills. With just one of the $10M bills enacted, the 2nd Proposed Train Frequency between the Twin Cities and Chicago could begin rolling in about two years. We have just posted a video about this new train in our "Proposed Routes" section - Twin Cities Chicago. There is more legislation this year than in past years. We are really encouraged by all of this legislation!
Here are the bills currently under review in the Minnesota Legislature:
1. House File (HF) 1639: Description - $160M in bond funds to appropriated to execute the MnDOT State Rail Passenger Plan - Author Rep Alice Hausman, Reps Todd Lippert, Gene Pelowski:
1a. Senate Companion File (SF 1962) Author - Senators Jeremy Miller, Sandy Pappas, and Michael Goggin
2. HF 1638: Description - Move property taxes currently paid by freight railroads into the general fund to a dedicated rail fund for freight and passenger rail funding - Author Rep. Alice Hausman: No Senate comanion bill as of early March 2021
3. HF 1637: Description - $10M appropriated from the general fund (cash) to fund infrastructure improvements for the 2nd Proposed Daily Passenger Train frequency between the Twin Cities and Chicago - Author Rep. Alice Hausman, Rep Gene Pelowski: No Senate companion bill as of early March 2021
4. HF 1251: Description - $10M appropriated from Bond Funds (designed to be part of the 2021 Bonding Bill and also in the Governors Bonding Bill proposal for 2021) to fund infrastructure improvements for the 2nd Proposed Dail Passenger Train frequency between between the Twin Cities and Chicago- Author Rep Alice Hausman, Frank Hornstein - Chair House Transportation Committee, Todd Lippert, Gene Pelowski: Senate Companion File - none as of early March 2021 but we understand Senator Jeremy Miller and possibly a couple other Senators will co-sponsor this bill.
5. HF 1109: Description - $4M in bond funds appropriated for engineering of high speed rail service from the Twin Cities to Duluth - Author Mary Murphy: Senate Companion File - 1624: Authors - Senators Jennifer McEwen, Ann Johnson-Stewart, Jerry Newton
6. HF 2269 This is the Omnibus Bonding bill which contains all of the projects in the proposed 2021 Bonding Bill; there is $10M appropriated in this bill for the 2nd daily proposed train between the Twin Cities and Chicago. As of the end of March there is no Senate companion bill.
7. HF 1393 - Here is the text of the bill as introduced - $500,000 in fiscal year 2022 is appropriated from the general fund to the commissioner of transportation for a feasibility study and alternatives analysis of a passenger rail corridor connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul to Albert Lea on existing rail line and passing through Faribault and Northfield and auxiliary east-west passenger rail service connecting Mankato and Winona on existing rail line and passing through Owatonna and Rochester. Authors - Todd Lippert (Northfield) and Alice Hausman. Senate Companion File - SF 2365, Author Senator Sandy Pappas
Empire Builder Daily Schedule Restored May 24 - And - Update on Dining Car Service
March 10, 2021
Amtrak announced in a press release today that because of Covid relief funding, just passed today by US Congress, the Empire Builder will be restored to daily service on May 24. All other long distance trains that went to tri-weekly service last fall will be restored to daily service by June 7, 2021.
Additionally, along with the resumption of daily service, Trains Newswire was quoted regarding dining car service:
"Amtrak plans to restore “traditional” dining car meals with the daily frequencies, Harris says, “but we’re not quite sure yet how to work through the health implications. Communal dining is probably a non-starter for now, and you can work backward through food preparation and delivery.”
He says Amtrak’s new head of customer service, Robert Jordan, “is very interested in the topic and is going through the process of inviting employee input to make it better.”
Here is Amtrak's press release with the full schedule of long distance trains reinstatement to daily service;
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 10, 2021
With Increased Demand and Congressional Funding, Amtrak Restores 12 Long Distance Routes to Daily Service
Slated to debut this summer, new schedules offer the most departures since June 2020
WASHINGTON – As part of its COVID-19 recovery efforts, Amtrak announces full restoration of daily service for 12 long distance routes following pandemic-related schedule reductions in 2020. Providing customers significantly more departures for the upcoming summer travel season, the new schedule has been updated on all Amtrak reservation systems, including Amtrak.com and the Amtrak app.
Due to COVID relief funding, Amtrak will sustain and restore operations and recall the more than 1,200 furloughed employees through the remainder of FY21 and into FY22. The funding is pending President Biden’s signature on the final bill.
“Offering daily long distance service represents a vital step in our road to recovery,” said Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn. “Recognizing the immense value of our employees, we’d like to thank Congress for enabling service restoration and helping us recall furloughed employees.”
The daily schedules will commence in May 2021 and be grouped into three phases:
|May 24||May 31||June 7|
|California Zephyr (Chicago – Omaha – Denver – Salt Lake City – San Francisco)||Capitol Limited (Washington DC – Pittsburgh – Cleveland – Chicago)||Crescent (New York – Washington DC – Atlanta – New Orleans)|
|Coast Starlight (Seattle – Portland – Sacramento – Oakland – Los Angeles||City of New Orleans (Chicago – Memphis – Jackson – New Orleans)||Palmetto (New York – Washington DC – Charleston – Savannah)|
|Empire Builder (Chicago – St. Paul-Minneapolis – Spokane – Portland/Seattle)||Lake Shore Limited (New York/Boston – Albany – Buffalo – Chicago)||Silver Meteor (New York – Savannah – Jacksonville – Orlando – Miami)|
|Texas Eagle (Chicago – St. Louis – Dallas – San Antonio – Los Angeles)||Southwest Chief (Chicago – Kansas City – Albuquerque – Los Angeles)||Silver Star (New York – Raleigh – Jacksonville – Orlando – Tampa – Miami)|
AAMN to testify at Minnesota House Capital Investment Committee Hearing Feb 23
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
12 Montana Counties Officially Establish Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority
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.
FRA publishes Amtrak on time performance standards for host freight railroads
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.