AAMN Response to Empire Builder Article by Star Tribune

January 2, 2017

To our members;

On Dec 24 the StarTribune ran an article on the Empire Builder.  We felt it was good coverage, but felt it needed some further context. Our response to the article is below.   Please forward this response to your elected officials or otherwise get the word out about our cause.  Thank you and Happy New Year!

All Aboard Minnesota Board.



Dear Mr. Peterson:


Your article about Amtrak’s Empire Builder correctly stated that ridership has definitely increased, and the benefits it provides over driving and flying.  Your article also mentions more frequencies for Amtrak service.  All Aboard Minnesota, a non-profit group whose mission is to advocate and educate for more rail passenger service for the state of Minnesota, is strongly in support of a second train frequency from the Twin Cities to Chicago.  Studies have shown that more than 200 riders would use the service each way, every day, and this service would attract new ridership.1


We are also strongly in support of a stop for passenger trains in Minneapolis, in addition to St. Paul Union Depot (SPUD).  While we applaud the renovation of SPUD, we believe a stop is necessary in Minneapolis/Hennepin County as the almost two thirds of the Twin Cities population reside there, and SPUD may be geographically undesirable for many.  While we believe it could be higher, MnDot estimates that perhaps an additional 20,000 riders would use current Amtrak service if a Minneapolis stop were made available.2   


Your article mentions “dips” in Amtrak’s ridership.  Actually, Amtrak’s overall ridership has actually increased now for at least five consecutive years.  Amtrak carried a record 31.3 million passengers in 2016, 400,000 more than last year, and the sixth consecutive year Amtrak has carried more than 30 million customers.3


Amtrak’s long distance services currently comprise 15 different routes, and for Amtrak’s Fiscal Year 2016 seven of these routes have seen increases in ridership over 2015, the Empire Builder being one of them.  As a group, the long-distance trains carried 3.2 percent more passengers in 2016 versus 2015.4 This is in spite of, as you pointed out, record low gas prices and additional competition.


The Minnesota legislature needs to adequately fund more rail passenger service as part of a balanced transportation network.  This would connect the Twin Cities to rural parts of the state, and would provide true options for the elderly, college students and others who often cannot drive or fly.


We can no longer solely rely on highway funding to meet all of our transportation needs. Rail passenger services requires less cost to add service versus new highways or airways, is environmentally friendlier, and offers comfort and safety that is superior compared to driving and buses.  For more information about All Aboard Minnesota, please visit our website:  www.allaboardmn.org;  Thank you for your article and consideration of this response.


Best Regards,


Brian W. Nelson-President

All Aboard Minnesota



  1. MnDot State Rail Passenger office study
  2. MnDot
  3. Amtrak
  4. Amtrak

Fall Membership Meeting: Highlights and Video

November 27, 2016

All Aboard Minnesota’s 2016 fall membership meeting was held on Saturday, November 12… five days after the national election.  This was our third such meeting, and we had record turnout and a packed agenda!

View Meeting:

Here is a summary of the meeting:

  • Board members introduced themselves and gave a brief recap of 2016 activities and achievements.
  • Bob Moen gave a brief powerpoint presentation showing what he found on a recent scouting trip down UP’s “Spine Line” toward Kansas City.  This route has been identified in the State Rail Plan as a “Tier Two” choice for eventual intercity passenger service.  Bob reported on improved track conditions, existing station/platform infrastructure, and overall desirability of the route, which would serve important communities such as Northfield, Faribault, Owatonna, Mason City, and Des Moines.
  • House Representative Alice Hausman (Chair of the Transportation Policy and Finance committee) spoke on the outlook for progress given the new makeup of the House and Senate and how we can impact outcomes.
  • MnDOT Office of Passenger Rail – Dan Krom and Frank Loetterle—provided an in-depth look at their ongoing efforts to bring new service from the Twin Cities to Chicago and Duluth (NLX), and their legislative “ask” for funding and planning for 2017.
  • NARP Vice-Chair John DeLora, who launched and headed the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers some 37 years ago!  John had many good suggestions on how to successfully grow a nonprofit organization; and to accomplish our grass-roots communication and education objectives.
  • Finally, the Board recognized several members for their important contributions in 2016.  Lunch and socialization rounded out this successful get- together.  Thanks to all who attended!

Fall 2016 Annual Membership Meeting - You are Invited!

October 21, 2016

Fall 2016 Annual Membership Meeting - You are Invited!  

The fall “all-member” meeting of All Aboard Minnesota will be held
on Saturday, November 12, and… YOU are invited!

We are extremely pleased to announce three very informative speakers for our meeting!  See below for details.

The meeting will be held at Christ the King Lutheran Church, located on 8600 Freemont Ave, South in Bloomington,  MN.  Doors will be open at 9:00am- the meeting will begin at 9:30am will conclude at 12:00noon.  Go in the main entrance on the south side of the church, walk straight back and down the hall on the left to the lounge.  There will be signs to direct you.

Refreshments will be provided in the morning, and at 12:00noon, we will provide a light lunch.  For directions, please click on this
link:  http://www.ctkb.org/contact-us/

This meeting is free and open to all members! 

We have an exciting agenda planned including:  

What has All Aboard Minnesota been doing?  What are the plans going forward?
Speaker Alice Hausman - Minnesota State Rep will give her thoughts on passenger rail for the state of Minnesota and the upcoming legislative session for transportation
Speaker John Delora - Vice Chair - National Association of Railroad Passengers -and Founder-Michigan Association of Railroad passengers-  advocacy lessons learned in Michigan
Speaker Dan Krom - Director - MnDot Passenger Rail Office - will give an update on key Minnesota state passenger rail initiatives
Recognizing our members - for all the great work you have done!
Member input - we want to hear your ideas!
Questions and Answers

Members are asked to RSVP in advance Reservations will be accepted up until
Monday November 7.  Please rsvp your reservation to AAMN at:

Email;  allaboardminnesota@gmail.com;

Or please call 612-781-2894 and leave a message 

This will be a great opportunity for all of us to meet, greet, and get to know each
other.  We look forward to seeing you there!

Spring 2016 Membership Meeting - Saturday, May 21

April 28, 2016


Spring 2016 Membership Meeting - You are Invited!  


Spring membership meeting of All Aboard Minnesota will be held
on Saturday, May 21, and… YOU are invited!

The meeting will be held at Christ the King Lutheran Church, located on 8600 Freemont Ave, South in Bloomington,  MN.  Doors will be open at 10:00am.  The meeting will begin at 10:30 am and will conclude at 12:00noon.  Light refreshments will be provided in the morning.

For directions, please click on this
link:  http://www.ctkb.org/contact-us/

This meeting is free and open to all members! 

We have an exciting agenda planned: 

Update on our meetings and our learnings from the 2016 MN legislative session
What is happening with rail passenger legislation
Update on the MnDot State Rail Passenger office
Meetings we've had around the region with Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers, Prorail, and others
How you can help our cause

There is no need to RSVP, but if you have questions in the meantime please contact us at:
[email protected];

We look forward to seeing you there!

Stop by Train Days April 30-May 1 2016

April 24, 2016


Stop by Train Days April 30-May 1  2016


All Aboard Minnesota will be exhibiting at St. Paul Union Depot Train Days!  All members are invited to stop in and visit with AAMN Board members at this special two-day event being held on Saturday and Sunday, April 30-May 1.  Timing of the event is 10:00am to 4:00pm on Saturday April 30, and 11:00am to 3:00pm Sunday May 1.

The Depot is putting together an extravaganza celebrating train travel…an event that will feature an Amtrak exhibition train!  Also on display down on the depot tracks will be Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 #261, a Soo Line FP7, and other historic equipment.  Up in the main room, there will be art, speakers, vendors, operating model layouts, and of course… groups like us that will all be there in support of more and better train service in Minnesota.  Admission is free.

For more information, visit:  http://www.uniondepot.org/traindays/

Spread the word and encourage your friends and family to come.  We hope to see you there!

Stand Up for More Trains in Minnesota

February 23, 2016

  • March 1: a great opportunity for all members to stand up for more trains for Minnesota.   One of AAMN’s top goals as an organization is to build grass-roots support for a more balanced transportation policy that includes sensible investment in modern trains.  One of the best (and easiest) ways to do this is through the submission of resolutions at local precinct caucuses which will be held around the state on Tuesday evening, March 1.


Most political parties registered in Minnesota hold precinct caucuses to allow citizens  to influence party policy.  Caucuses are run by volunteers.  Anyone can attend.  There is no fee or charge.  You’re are encouraged to voice your opinions.  It’s democracy at its grass-roots best!


Locations of all MN precinct caucuses are now posted on the Secretary of State’s website:  www.caucusfinder.sos.state.mn.us.  (Or, contact your city’s administrative office).  For most, your caucus location will be very close to wherever you live.



  • Sample caucus resolution: The Board is offering the following resolution for all members to bring to their local caucus, which is in support of a second daily train from the Twin Cities to Chicago.  Please  print this resolution out and take to your precinct caucuses:



  Resolution for Caucus night on March 1: 

“Whereas modern, fast, comfortable intercity passenger trains are largely missing in the state of Minnesota, and


Whereas the only one Amtrak daily train that serves west central Minnesota eastbound in the very early morning hours, and westbound at very late evening hours,


Whereas new train service on existing 79-mph routes costs a small fraction of the cost of building new roads and freeway lanes, examples being that to upgrade existing railroad right of way approximately $1 million per mile and new or highway expansion costs up to $10 million per mile, and


Whereas many other U.S. states have introduced new train services which have proven to be cost-effective and popular with the traveling public, and


Whereas more convenient train service will offer an economical and comfortable way for hundreds of thousands of people each year to get back and forth to Milwaukee and Chicago as alternative to driving on congested freeways, or flying, and


Whereas additional train service has proven to create economic growth, tourism, and community vibrancy all along its routes, as studies on the federal and state level have proven that every one (1) dollar invested in intercity passenger rail yields up to four (4) dollars in economic benefit to those communities served, and


Whereas MnDOT is currently studying the feasibility of adding a new daylight 79-mph passenger train between the Twin Cities, Milwaukee, and Chicago – on a reliable schedule-- thus opening up new and important travel options for citizens, now therefore


Be it resolved that we support the implementation of this new train service at the earliest opportunity, and direct our legislators to find a suitable, stable form of funding

to support it.


Ramsey County to Pay $300,000 for St. Paul to Chicago Rail Study

February 13, 2016

Ramsey County to Pay $300,000 for St. Paul to Chicago Rail Study

Ramsey County officials have voted to provide up to $300,000 for the study of a second daily round-trip train between St. Paul and Chicago.

The Ramsey County Board of Commissioners voted 7-0 Tuesday to finalize a partnership with the Minnesota Department of Transportation and move forward with the first phase of a $600,000 environmental assessment. Wisconsin would fund the other half.

An Amtrak feasibility study released last year predicted ridership on a second train could exceed 150,000 passengers a year, but Minnesota and Wisconsin would have to subsidize about $6.6 million annually. About 100,000 people ride a train between Chicago and St. Paul each year.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press  reports the first phase of the environmental study would be done by end of December 2017 and have finer estimates for construction, capital and operating costs.

(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Northern Lights Express Public Meetings Scheduled

February 9, 2016

Minnesota Department of Transportation

Northern Lights Express high-speed passenger rail

Save the date - NLX public meetings scheduled

Wondering what’s been happening on the proposed Northern Lights Express high-speed passenger rail project? Attend any or all of the four upcoming public open houses to find out. Meetings have been scheduled in or near the cities where NLX passenger stations are proposed.

Twin Cities (Minneapolis/Coon Rapids stations)
Wednesday, Feb. 24
Fridley Community Center, 6-8 p.m.
6085 7th Street NE, Fridley

Twin Ports (Duluth/Superior stations)
Thursday, Feb. 25
Duluth Depot, 6-8 p.m.
506 Michigan Street West, Duluth

Monday, Feb. 29
Cambridge Community Center, 6-8 p.m.
140 Buchanan Street North, Cambridge

Thursday, March 3
Hinckley-Finlayson High School, 6-8 p.m.
201 Main Street East, Hinckley

Attend one of the public meetings to:

  • Hear more about estimated project costs, benefits, ridership and service plan
  • Review the station location design concepts
  • Learn about the Tier 2 Project Level environmental review phase and next steps
  • Talk to project staff, ask questions and provide feedback

We hope to see you there.


For more information about the NLX project, visit the NLX website or contact:

Frank Loetterle
NLX MnDOT Project Manager
[email protected]

To request an ASL interpreter call 651-366-4720. To request other reasonable accommodations, call 651-366-4718; the Minnesota Relay Service toll-free at 1-800-627-3529 (TTY, Voice or ASCII) or 711, or email your request to [email protected].

All Aboard Minnesota Comments on 2nd Train to Chicago Study

January 26, 2016

All Aboard Minnesota Comments on 2nd Train to Chicago Study

       Date:  December 21, 2015   

Executive Summary:

Our Board of Directors is responding based upon the information released in the recent report. Here is a summary of our views.  Our full analysis and comments follow.

  1. We believe that a second train between the Twin Cities and Chicago, on a reliable daytime schedule, is an essential service for this high-traffic corridor.
  2. We agree that the western origin/destination point should initially be located in the Twin Cities rather than St. Cloud. We also understand that there are many reasons why St. Paul Union Depot has been chosen as the initial start/end point. However, it is our firm belief that once service is established, the Twin Cities end point must be moved to Minneapolis.
  3. With this in mind…we urge MNDOT to partner with the freight railroads to secure a passenger train focused right-of-way between Minneapolis and St. Paul at the earliest possible opportunity.
  4. For this train service to be successful, we are of the firm belief that the end-to-end schedule must be kept to seven hours or less. The schedule must be competitive with drive time. Thus, every stop along the way must be examined carefully for relevancy, necessity, and priority. MNDOT has stated that, “the second train will make all the same stops as the Empire Builder.”  We strongly question the reasoning behind that position, and sincerely hope that more study can be accomplished before it is set into stone. Decisions about the stations to be served will have a huge impact on the success of the train.
  5. We agree that the Option C arrival and departure times (departing Chicago westbound at 10:15am, and St. Paul eastbound at 11:46am) would be optimal. A mid-morning departure to St. Paul and a late afternoon arrival into Chicago in time to connect with Amtrak trains to the east (New York, Boston, Washington D.C., etc.), would encourage substantial ridership out of the Twin Cities. One of the main advantages of the second train originating in St. Paul is that it would be very reliable and on time.
  6. We believe the bi-level car design proposed for the new service will work well. However, we do not believe spending $8 million each on high-speed locomotives is necessary. We suggest that the states look at initially leasing Amtrak cars and locomotives to reduce the startup cost of the service.


The following observations also merit further analysis and/or consideration:

  1. Incomplete Data

While there is substantial data and analysis behind the numbers in the study, significant information has not been released.  Specifically, All Aboard Minnesota would like to see more data as to what specific capital improvements are being proposed by the freight railroads.

  1. Future Route Extensions

Minnesota should consider the core Twin Cities—Chicago route to be the first step toward expanded service to outstate communities.  Through extensions of the 2nd train to Duluth and Fargo would create significant new mobility options for outstate residents.  These extensions and enhanced Chicago connectivity to other trains would also feed substantial traffic to the 2nd train, improving revenues and cutting losses.

III.   Future Corridor service.

Once a second train to Chicago is up and running, it is our belief that current highway and bus traffic would support at least one additional daytime schedule and an overnight train.  An overnight schedule would (a) provide next-day early-morning connections to all Amtrak trains at Chicago (including the St. Louis and Detroit corridors), and, importantly, (b) allow business travelers to have a full day in Chicago or the Twin Cities, before returning later in the day.


All Aboard Minnesota Analysis, Evaluation, and Recommendations

Here is our complete analysis, with supporting facts and data:

There is obviously significant data and analysis behind the numbers in the study. But what has been released so far provides limited detail or background from which to evaluate the analysis or conclusions. All Aboard Minnesota would especially like to see (1) what (and where) specific capital improvements are proposed by the freight railroads and (2) more detailed ridership/revenue/expense estimates. With the limited information that has been released in the study, it is difficult to fully evaluate the report and its conclusions.

  1. Route Scenarios Evaluated

The route scenarios explored in the 2nd Train Study were:

Scenario 1: Chicago-St. Cloud via St. Paul Union Depot (SPUD) and Target Field Station (TFS) in downtown Minneapolis.

Scenario 2: Chicago-St. Cloud via SPUD and the Northstar Fridley station just north of


Scenario 3:  Chicago-Minneapolis to Target Field Northstar Station (TFS).

Scenario 4: Chicago-St. Paul to St. Paul Union Depot (SPUD)


MNDOT Choice of Chicago-St. Paul

We concur with MNDOT’s assessment that, of the scenarios listed above, Chicago-St. Paul (Scenario 4) is the most important and easiest route to get up and running. Of the two St. Cloud extension scenarios, we feel it is more important to stop in downtown Minneapolis, than a Northstar station such as Fridley. (More on St. Cloud to follow.)

But…serving Minneapolis is important

Serving Minneapolis is critical because of its status as the Upper Midwest’s most significant business and economic center.  2/3 of the entire Twin Cities population lives in Minneapolis and its far-reaching suburbs.  Union Depot (SPUD) in St. Paul conveniently serves 1/3 of the Twin Cities population.  Passengers from southwest of Minneapolis must travel long distances, in frequently heavy urban freeway traffic, to reach St. Paul. The station has no direct freeway access and requires additional time to reach on difficult to navigate or blocked (Farmers Market) streets downtown.

The ridership estimates mentioned in the study infer that ridership out of Minneapolis would be 22,100 per year vs. 133,400 from St. Paul. Given the above data on where the Twin Cities population lives, this estimate appears to be severely understated.  More in-depth ridership modeling would appear to be warranted.  In the interest of launching a successful service to Chicago, All Aboard Minnesota believes the western end-point of the second train should be moved to Minneapolis as soon as feasible once it is up and running.

Using the 45-minute Green Line or the 30-minute 94D bus route as the primary connection for what could be two thirds of the trains potential passengers is simply unacceptable for the long term. Target Field and SPUD should both be used as downtown hub stations. Previous to Amtrak, busy stations were maintained in both downtowns and served by all trains as a matter of course.


Securing a downtown-to-downtown passenger route.

We feel it is critical that MNDOT quickly obtain access (via trackage rights, if not outright ownership) to a dedicated railroad route between St. Paul and Minneapolis. Without control of such a route, the entire future of passenger train development in Minnesota could be endangered.

The route selected by MNDOT last year using the current Amtrak route via Canadian Pacific/ MN Commercial from SPUD to St. Anthony then BNSF to Minneapolis via Minneapolis Junction (Midway Sub) is an excellent choice. Access for passenger trains to this route needs to be secured before it is overtaken by growing freight traffic. We believe that access can be obtained by partnering with the BNSF and CP railroads, just as California successfully partnered with Union Pacific and BNSF to expand capacity in important corridors (see ‘negotiating with the freight railroads’, below). To obtain railroad support, track capacity could be used by freight trains at night, when passenger traffic would be low.

Important note:  In 2015 BNSF completed a double-tracking project between St. Anthony Junction and Minneapolis Junction which has added capacity between the two major downtowns.  Thus, the capital expenditures shown in the report for these improvements have now been substantially reduced.

There would, however, be a need for some additional infrastructure between Minneapolis Junction (Harrison Street wye) and across the river into Target Field Station.  The railroad already has an interest in these improvements, again suggesting the potential for a win-win public-private partnership.


  1. Stations Served


We believe that MNDOT, WISDOT and Amtrak need to have a heart-to-heart talk regarding all the proposed station stops along the second train’s route.

MNDOT has stated that, “the second train will make all the same stops as the Empire Builder.”  We strongly question the reasoning behind that position, and sincerely hope that more study can be accomplished before it is set into stone…despite whatever political and/or outside factors upon which that decision may be currently predicated.

A large majority of passengers who might be attracted to this new service will be “overhead” travelers, wishing to make the Twin Cities—Milwaukee—Chicago trip in as little time as possible.  If the new train is to attract these potential passengers, the A-to-B transit time needs to be kept to 7 hours or less… i.e. comparable to driving time.

Pre-Amtrak, this service was historically provided by the Milwaukee Road’s high speed Hiawatha corridor trains. Smaller stops were split up between them so that every train did not make every stop, in order to keep end-to-end transit time down.

MNDOT has made statements that this train will be a “second Empire Builder”. We believe MNDOT needs to look at this service as a “Corridor Train” serving a very different market than the Chicago-Seattle Empire Builder. We believe this train is the first of several trains operating in the Twin Cities-Chicago corridor, at different travel times throughout the day.

For the 2nd train to be competitive as a corridor train, every minute counts and thus every stop has to count.  Every stop adds 8 or more minutes to the schedule. With this in mind, we make the following observations and recommendations concerning the necessity of potential stops along the route:


Must Stops

  • Winona & La Crosse College students and others (Mayo Clinic) have always made Winona and La Crosse the big passenger loading stations between St. Paul and Milwaukee (with 23,507 & 28,128 annual riders). These stops should receive attention to stations and passenger amenities.
  • Milwaukee
  • Madison With a metro population of over 630,000, a connection to Madison and the University of Wisconsin campus there is critical. A dedicated shuttle van/bus connecting to the University of Wisconsin Campus and the Madison Airport would really develop ridership to and from this market. Both the Empire Builder and the second train would see Madison ridership grow. Such a service should be part of the 2nd train plan. We believe that having three stops in the 45 miles north of Madison is excessive: Wisconsin Dells, Portage, and Columbus. Stopping at all three consumes a half hour of running time, which we see as unnecessary and imprudent.


(a) Wisconsin Dells While The Dells has an attractive station, adequate parking and excellent freeway access, this stop is too far west to serve Madison. We wonder if a stop only during the busy summer tourist season might be most appropriate. This should be evaluated with monthly ridership data. The Empire Builder could continue to provide daily service.

(b) Portage This station location is in a busy railroad terminal with limited Amtrak parking and poor lighting. The station itself is basically a heated bus shelter and unstaffed. A new station could be located to the west, where Highway 16 crosses the railroad. This location would be near the I39 freeway ramp for a quick bus connection to Madison. I39 feeds into I94 direct to Madison.

(c) Columbus has a station with a full time ticket agent, but the boarding platforms are not long enough for the Empire Builder necessitating a double or triple stop, consuming 5-7 minutes of station dwell time. The 2nd train would not be affected by the platform. If Columbus were chosen as the Madison stop, the platform should be lengthened. Another option would be a new station located to the west close to Highway 151, which is a four-lane divided highway leading directly to Madison.

Columbus has long been considered the main stop for Madison, set up years ago when the railroad was competing for eastbound business to Milwaukee and Chicago. But today there is frequent intercity bus service eastbound connecting Madison directly to Milwaukee and the Amtrak station in Chicago. Therefore we suspect that proportionately more train riders will be coming to and from the west than the east (Chicago/Milwaukee). Again Amtrak’s ridership data would settle this question. Further analysis regarding the best station to serve Madison needs to be done. Here is some data comparing the options and bus travel time.


City                 Population    Distance                    Travel Time               2013 Amtrak

to Madison                to Madison                Boarding’s


WI Dells           2,712            55 miles                     63 minutes                13,768

Portage          10,178           38 miles                     44 minutes                  7,455

Columbus       4,998            27 miles                     33+30=63 min.         16,188

on train from west


We would hope that MNDOT, WISDOT, and Amtrak could do some additional studies to select either Portage or Columbus as the ONE Madison stop for the second train and connecting bus service into Madison.


Stops we would consider dropping: 

As mentioned, the Empire Builder serves all current stops.  We question why the second train also needs to serve these smaller communities, whose light boarding’s could be sacrificed for a more competitive point-to-point running time:

  • Red Wing. As much as we want to see more service in Minnesota, Red Wing

should be evaluated due to its light passenger loadings of 10,000 annually.

  • Tomah. Centrally located between La Crosse and the Dells, and with an avid train riding Amish/Mennonite population, Tomah’s annual boarding’s of 10-11,000 are simply too light for a second daily train stop.
  • Milwaukee airport. Few passengers from Minnesota or Wisconsin (west of

Columbus) would use the train to reach the Milwaukee airport, because

the second train would arrive too late in the day and leave too early for these      passengers to connect with most (if not all) flights.

If the train ends up being added as an additional train to the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor, then perhaps this point is moot.  The feasibility study is not clear on this.  But this train should certainly not be saddled with the $10 million dollar cost of adding a new platform to the Milwaukee Airport station. That is properly an expense for the Chicago-Milwaukee “Hiawatha” Corridor trains.


All Aboard Minnesota would like to suggest that in return for dropping these lighter-patronage stops, planners consider the addition of other stops that might generate more ridership:

  • West Suburban Milwaukee We feel Pewaukee with its superior freeway access and station site is the best location. Specifically, there is a location one mile east of Pewaukee where the Highway 16 expressway crosses the Canadian Pacific/Amtrak line with open land northeast of the tracks where a station could be located. Highway 16 connects directly to I-94 providing easy access to every major western Milwaukee suburb. This location is 19 miles west of Milwaukee in the middle of the western suburbs. We believe this alternative location is worthy of careful study. Brookfield has long been considered as a potential suburban stop.  However, Brookfield station has poor expressway access to other western suburbs.
  • Sturtevant Along that same line of reasoning, we suggest adding a stop in Sturtevant, WI, between Milwaukee and Chicago. The study provides conflicting information on whether the second train would stop here. Sturtevant, an existing station, provides direct access to the 363,000 people who live in the Racine/Kenosha area and the 705,000 people in adjacent northern Illinois Lake County who may want to avoid a trip into downtown Chicago to catch the train. Sturtevant is too significant of a potential ridership generator to be neglected by either the 2nd train or the Empire Builder. Currently passengers to and from this important market are forced to ride a local Chicago/Milwaukee train and then wait for an hour or more in the Milwaukee depot to connect to and from the Empire Builder.


In summary, let’s not let inertia or politics, override good business sense.  In corridor service, transit time between endpoints counts. The time to study and negotiate these issues is now… before service begins.  Once the train is running or when we want to shift to High Speed Rail, it will be politically difficult to cut stops.


The Point A to Point B transit time needs to be weighed against the transportation utility of serving midpoint destinations. To the extent that point-to-point transit time can be balanced with the trains’ inherent advantage connecting important points along the way, everybody wins.  Again, the goal should be to keep Twin Cities – Chicago to seven hours or less.


We urge MNDOT, WISDOT, and Amtrak to study these suggestions carefully, and to be flexible in their approach.  The overall success of this new service could well be determined by decisions in these areas.


III. Proposed Train Schedules


The study proposes a schedule that alternates with the Empire Builder, providing a second daily train each way in the Twin Cities—Chicago corridor. The study looked at only one schedule westbound from Chicago leaving at 9:25am and two schedules eastbound from St. Paul: Option A at 2:25pm and Option B at 12:25pm. The ridership study showed a preference for Option B.

We assume people liked Option B because it gets them to Chicago at 7:57pm in time to travel to a suburb or settle into a hotel. Option A would have gotten them to Chicago at 9:54pm.  However both these east-and westbound schedules would not connect with other Amtrak services to the east or south out of Chicago

The consultants were also asked what would be the optimal schedule for minimizing freight train interference and thus railroad infrastructure investment for the project: Option C. It turns out that this optimal schedule is similar to Option B. The westbound train would leave Chicago at 10:15am. The eastbound train would leave St. Paul at 11:46am. This option cut the investment requirements from $142 to $95 million. Option A required $175 million to meet all the railroads ideal needs. As a result MNDOT and WISDOT have decided to focus on Schedule C moving forward, and we concur.


Schedule C has some important advantages. It connects with several other trains in Chicago. Eastbound the train connects with trains to Boston, New York, Memphis and New Orleans. Westbound the train connects with trains from Boston, New York, Washington D.C., Pittsburgh, Memphis and New Orleans. These connections will significantly enhance ridership.


Historical note:  Pre- Amtrak, in the early 1960’s, there were 7 daily Corridor trains each way on three major routes between the Twin Cities and Chicago (via Milwaukee, Eau Claire, or Dubuque). All of these trains also served Minneapolis. Transit times were around 6:20-7 hours.

Westbound Chicago departures were: 8:00am, 9:30am, 11:30 am, 1:00pm, 4:15 pm, 9:30pm, 10:00pm.

Eastbound, St. Paul departures were: 8:20am, 8:25am, 11:30am, 11:55am, 4:05pm, 10:25pm, 10:30pm.

There were four Chicago-Seattle/Portland long distance trains operating on the Twin Cities-Chicago Corridor as well, but these did not carry much corridor business. Bottom line:  Historical evidence would tend to support the travel demand for morning and noon departures.


  1. Proposed Equipment

New Cars and Locomotives

The equipment proposed for the service is of a bi-level design based upon the “California Cars” now operating on the Amtrak Surfliners and Capitols. These cars are now on order by California, Illinois, Michigan and Missouri for their trains, with options for more cars. These cars have higher density seating and fewer amenities than the long distance Superliner cars assigned to the Empire Builder.  Each train would be composed of two 90 seat coaches, one 70 seat cab coach and one 30 Business Class seat/ café lounge with a snack bar. This would provide 280 seats, which would be more than enough to accommodate expected ridership and future growth. The new cars are capable of 125 mph operation in the future. MNDOT should consider either adding baggage sections and service to these trains or larger luggage racks on the lower level.

The capital costs for the new equipment (8 cars and 2 locos) appear to be comparable with other equipment orders, with the exception of the locomotives, which were estimated to cost $8,300,000 each. This is 3 times the $2,800,000 each cost of the Northstar locos in 2009. We believe these are the 125mph Siemens locomotives on order by the other states, which are unnecessary for Minnesota’s needs at this time. For 79mph operation, we do not believe locos would cost over $3,500,000 each. Also, Amtrak may be making a large locomotive purchase in the coming years, and Minnesota could piggyback onto that order.

Spare equipment needed:  The other capital cost issue is that there is no spare equipment included with this order. At least 3 extra cars and 1 extra locomotive are required, assuming the train could also rely on spare cars based in Chicago for the IL and MI trains. A 20% spare ratio is required by the Federal Transit Administration in all transit agency orders.


Cab Coach Safety Issues

We also suggest that a locomotive be substituted for the leading cab coach so that there is a locomotive at each end of the train, protecting the passengers in the case of a collision. Amtrak went to this policy on most of its trains over ten years ago, using rehabbed older locomotives without engines on one end. In a grade crossing collision, a heavy locomotive will often throw the highway vehicle off to the side with only a scratch, while a cab coach car can become entangled with a vehicle and derail or crush into the passenger compartment. The Metro Link accident in California last year graphically illustrated this risk. The cab coach (of the newest crash worthy design) derailed when it struck a small utility truck, which became entangled underneath. The cab coach ended up on its side with serious passenger injuries and the death of the engineer. A locomotive would most likely have thrown the truck to the side with no derailment. This is a serious safety issue. The use of an older unpowered locomotive in place of a cab coach should be seriously considered. They can be acquired on the used market and refurbished inexpensively.


Why Not Lease Equipment from Amtrak?

Another alternative to buying new cars and locomotives is to lease them from Amtrak. When the new bi-level cars arrive for CA, IL, MI and MO, Amtrak will find itself with over 100 surplus single level Amfleet and Horizon coach cars, which have been rehabilitated in recent years. These would be ideal for the Chicago-St. Paul 2nd train and have many years of service life ahead. There will also be 20 or more locomotives made surplus. Leasing Amtrak equipment, at least in the first few years of operation, would cut the capital requirements significantly and might be the difference in gaining political support for the first Minnesota train. New equipment could be purchased at a later date.


  1. Ridership and Revenue Projections

We do not find any substantive disagreement with the revenue and ridership projections for St. Paul to Chicago…but again, we believe the projections for Minneapolis are way too low. The St. Cloud projections of 7,500 annual riders are comparable to current ridership. The projections support our contention that St. Cloud cannot generate the ridership to support originating a train.


  1. Operating Expense and Subsidy Requirements


Without more detail we are unable to evaluate the operating expense and subsidy requirements shown in the study. They appear to be in line with other Amtrak Corridor trains. The preferred Option B shows Revenues of $6,811,000 and a subsidy requirement (loss) of $5,637,000 annually. Option C is expected to be roughly the same.

If the states of MN, WI and IL divide these proportionately by the route miles in each state as they do currently, MN would have a 31% share or need to provide a $1.7 million annual subsidy. This is very low compared with the state subsidy required annually for Northstar and Light Rail trains.


VII.  Proposed Capital Railroad Infrastructure Investments

The study provides no documentation or detail on the track and signal infrastructure investments proposed for the freight railroads. It only shows the total required for each option. So it is difficult for us to comment on the validity of these numbers. They were based on traffic studies and computer simulations of the impact of various passenger schedules on the flow of freight trains over the route using models that Amtrak and the railroads generally agree with. The thinking is that any route can only handle a certain number of trains each way per day before it requires expansion such as upgraded signal systems, more passing sidings, a second track or more crossovers on double track so trains can pass each other smoothly.  We would anticipate a need for at least some of these capacity improvements to ensure consistent on-time performance.


More on Chicago-St. Paul Infrastructure Requests

 In the study Option B requires $85 million in railroad infrastructure improvements. We know that in 2009 the Canadian Pacific requested only $45 million for a second train on the proposed schedule in an Amtrak study. CP is now under a new management and oil traffic has grown considerably. We understand that the CP initially requested substantially more, so the states have succeeded in getting CP’s requests down considerably.


Negotiating with the Freight Railroads

The freight railroads’ bargaining position is that track capacity has value and they want to be made whole for any decrease in capacity that results from adding one or more passenger trains. This is not unreasonable, as growing freight traffic has made track space more valuable.  But, over the past 40 years (since the advent of Amtrak) railroads have allowed Amtrak to add trains at incremental cost, with no request for infrastructure capital dollars. Only in the past few years have railroads begun to ask for infrastructure investment, and these demands have become increasingly unreasonable. Often the railroads are demanding capital investment that they would have had to invest anyway to handle growing freight traffic. At other times their requests are legitimate.  It is important to note that Amtrak, and only Amtrak has the legal ability to challenge and limit these demands because of the agreements the railroads signed when they turned over their passenger train services to Amtrak in 1971.

This is not the same situation as was faced with Northstar service where BNSF had the right to refuse to handle the service and MNDOT was in a weak bargaining position. Just because a railroad demands capital dollars does not mean that the states or Amtrak must agree to everything the railroad is demanding. With MNDOT requesting additional train service under Amtrak’s Congressional operating authority, railroads must negotiate in good faith. Amtrak has the authority to go before the Surface Transportation Board, requesting that the STB compel the railroad to provide the second train slot. Whether they would do so is an open question.


VIII.  Extending service to outstate points is an important future consideration!

We believe that extending service beyond the Chicago – Twin Cities corridor would

(a) provide convenient, essential services to outstate communities (b) lead to significant economic growth/vitality throughout the state, (c) be welcomed by the traveling public, (d) be cost-effective, and (e)  feed significant new traffic to the Twin Cities-Chicago 2nd train.

Railroads serve an important travel function, linking far-flung communities to the important travel corridors within an economic region.  And since the Empire Builder crosses Minnesota in the dead of night, there is an important need for more convenient daytime schedules.  All Aboard Minnesota believes that future route extensions should be a high priority in Minnesota’s overall transportation planning.

  1. St. Cloud. We believe, with 7,500 projected riders inferred in the study, that St. Cloud is not a viable starting/ ending point for the 2nd train to Chicago. Historically, no passenger trains ever originated in St. Cloud. However, it is our firm belief that St. Cloud would be an important stop on an extended intercity train service between the Twin Cities and Fargo/Moorhead (see below).


  1. BNSF Infrastructure Requests

BNSF Railroad, which owns the track west and north of the Twin Cities, has requested a 3rd track from Interstate 694 (Fridley) to Coon Creek for $36 million and a 2nd main track from Becker to Big Lake for an Amtrak estimated $63 million. (These are the same demands they made for Northstar service). These figures are already out of date, as the railroad has now completed the addition of a second main track between the latter two points.  Also, with the spectacular growth of oil traffic BNSF is undoubtedly looking at the 3rd main between Fridley and Coon Creek.


  1. Extension to Fargo/Moorhead via St. Cloud

We believe that launching a service to and from Fargo/Moorhead would serve an important travel market and thus generate the ridership to support the extension.  Fargo/Moorhead originated significant ridership on several daily trains to the Twin Cities in past years. Current Empire Builder service departs in the middle of the night; a highly unattractive boarding time.

Extending the proposed 2nd train service to Fargo/Moorhead could be accomplished with no further investment in equipment or maintenance facilities as no more equipment would be needed and Amtrak could maintain the train in Chicago. Based on the proposed schedule the train could originate in Fargo/Moorhead in the morning and terminate there in the late evening, allowing business travel for the day to the Twin Cities and protecting the schedule east out of St. Paul. Other benefits of originating in Fargo/Moorhead:  (a) Amtrak already has 79 mph service along this entire route, (b)

there are active stations, thus reducing start-up costs, and (c) addition of stops at Wadena and Little Falls would also serve outstate Minnesotans well.  Both have attractive rehabilitated stations, which could be easily placed into service. Adding these to the Empire Builder would be a great way to quickly increase service to rural Minnesota.


  1. Extension to Duluth

Duluth would also be an equally viable starting point beyond the Twin Cities. Amtrak previously ran a Duluth to Chicago second train in the 1970-80’s. Extending the proposed service to Duluth could be accomplished with no further investment in equipment or maintenance facilities as no more equipment would be needed and Amtrak could maintain the train in Chicago.

Extending service to Duluth would involve substantial capital investment in track, signal systems and capacity improvements requested by BNSF, as this line would need significant upgrading to allow higher passenger train speeds.


To maximize productivity, splitting the Chicago train into two trains in St. Paul bound for Duluth and Fargo would maximize ridership and exploit the potential of both routes.


  1. Future Development in the Twin Cities – Chicago corridor

All Aboard Minnesota believes that once a second daily train is added to the Twin Cities – Chicago corridor, adding a third train would be viable.  Illinois and Michigan have proven that adding more trains generates more riders. IL operates five trains each way between Chicago and St. Louis and they are well patronized. MI operates 3 trains between Chicago and Detroit.  These corridors are comparable in many ways to the Chicago-Twin Cities route.

In addition, a future overnight option might be warranted.  An eastbound train departing Twin Cities in the evening, with an early morning arrival into Chicago would (1) allow business travelers a full day in Chicago before returning the same evening, and, importantly, (2) provide connections to all Amtrak trains in Chicago for many destinations.


With extensions to Duluth and St. Cloud, Fargo/Moorhead, the network connectivity would lead to substantial increases in patronage… fulfilling the true capability of intercity train service potential in the Twin Cities—Chicago corridor.


In conclusion: All Aboard Minnesota strongly supports the addition of a 2nd daytime train to Chicago and stands ready to assist MNDOT in any way to see this train service up and running as soon as possible.  We encourage MNDOT to contact us if they would like to discuss any of these issues in further detail.

Amtrak Study - Second Frequency between St. Paul and Chicago

December 29, 2015

Amtrak has now completed their study on a second train frequency between St. Paul and Chicago. The All Aboard Minnesota Board has done a very thorough and detailed analysis of this plan and has provided a position paper on the study. We have taken the time to do this in order to make sure this proposed service is as successful as possible. We are strongly supportive of this service, but believe there are several considerations, such as station stops, that need further scrutiny.

We have published an Executive Summary on our About Us section of this website, in the What's New tab. The full paper is available upon request. This paper is intended for MnDot, WisDot, several sister rail advocacy groups in Wisconsin along with some key MN legislators. Additionally, we have provided the paper to the National Association of Railroad Passengers. We will be discussing this new service with the parties mentioned, and use it for further advocacy and education this year.

We welcome your feedback.