Passenger Rail - Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. What are the capital costs required to get the 2nd Train frequency between the Twin Cities and Chicago running; how much would Minnesota pay?
Answer - Current figures are in a range of $55M to $72.3M. These include track and signal upgrades to enable the service, professional services, and contingency planning. These costs do not include equipment which would could be existing equipment leased from Amtrak. The capital costs would be split primarily equally between Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois; up to $24M each. * This infrastructure work is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2023, and to be completed by early 2025. Canadian Pacific, the host railway for this service has stated that the new train can roll before the infrastructure work is completed. The 2nd train could begin service as early as 2023.
Q2. How much would the 2nd Train cost to operate?
Answer – Estimated cost is $12.45M annually. 65% of this cost would be covered by fares, $6.85M. MN, WI, primarily would cover the remaining 35% or $4.5M per year.* MnDOT did receive an operating grant from the Federal Railroad Administration in 2020, which would largely cover Minnesota's operating costs for the first three years.
Q3. What are the next steps for the 2nd Train; when could it run?
Answer - Next steps; the $10M matching funding was approved by the legislature, the state will realize the $38M FRA federal grant. Then, construction can begin for the track, signaling, and grade crossing work in Minnesota. This work could be completed within the next two to three years. The next step is for the Minnesota Legislature to fund the operating expenses for at least the first three years. Even though the state has received a federal operating grant subsidy, the state will still need to cover some operating expenses for the first three years. We are hopeful that the state will fund these expenses in the 2023 Transportation budget.
Q4. What are the Capital costs to enable Twin Cities to Duluth service?
Answer - MnDOT’s current estimate is between $500-600M, which includes new stations, railroad infrastructure upgrades, signaling, and grade crossing upgrades. See the enclosed Northern Lights Express brochure for more information about this service.*
Q5. What are the next steps for Twin Cities to Duluth service; when could it run?
Answer - All of the environmental assessments, and design studies been completed by MnDOT, and is called “shovel ready.” Meaning that once the state approves funding and gains Federal matching dollars, construction described in Q3 can begin. This work is estimated to take approximately two years.
Q6. What public support is there for more passenger rail service in Minnesota?
Answer – There is great support in Minnesota for more passenger rail service. The United Transportation Union conducted a statewide survey of Minnesotans in 2019 and found that 72% of Minnesotans support more regional intercity passenger rail service (to cities like Fargo, Duluth, Winona, etc.) and 65% supported the 2nd Train.*
Q7. Are passenger trains more efficient than cars and planes?
Answer – Yes, Amtrak diesel and electric trains are 32.6% more energy efficient than cars and 12% more energy efficient than commercial aviation. Also, railroads require much less footprint than other modes, which reduces costs. For example, 300 miles of railroad requires less land than one single commercial metropolitan airport, and one two track railroad can haul as many people in one hour as 16 lanes of highway! *
Q8. What is more cost effective, funding more passenger rail service, or funding more highways, and airports – commercial aviation?
Answer – Typically funding more passenger rail service is less expensive than building more highways or airports. Since the proposed passenger rail routes in Minnesota will use existing railroad infrastructure, there is much less investment. For example, to fully reconstruct a road in the Twin Cities metro costs $7.5M a mile. Minnesota is planning to spend $21B over the next 20 years on roads and bridges. The $30M investment in the MnDOT state rail plan is a fraction of these costs and will get people out of cars, reducing road maintenance costs.*
Q 9 What other passenger rail corridors are viable in Minnesota for new and expanded service?
Answer - Of the $66B allocated for Amtrak in the Infrastructure bill passed by US Congress, there is $36B designated for Federal and State partnerships to develop new and expanded passenger rail service corridors nationwide. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has developed a new "Corridor ID" office to work with states Departments of Transportation to develop these corridors. The first step is to submit a "Letter of Interest" to the FRA. MnDOT did that in late 2022, and outlined these corridors (not necessarily in this order): 1. Extending the 2nd Twin Cities to Chicago train to Fargo/Moorhead on the existing Empire Builder route through St. Cloud on a daytime schedule, 2. New Twin Cities to Des Moines, IA and Kansas City, MO service, 3. New service to Mankato, Sioux Falls, SD, Sioux City, SD to Omaha, NB, 4. Fargo/Moorhead, ND Grand Forks, ND to Winnipeg, Canada, 5. A third Twin Cities to Chicago frequency either on the existing Empire Builder route, or a new route through Eau Claire, WI to Madison, WI to Chicago.
All Aboard Minnesota supports all of these corridors, in addition to those mentioned above. We believe that the two routes that have the greatest propensity for success in the near term are extending the 2nd train to Fargo/Moorhead as outlined above, and new service from the Twin Cities to Kansas City. We are basing this statement on several factors such as population, existing infrastructure, potential ridership, political support, other states cooperation, cost to implement, and other factors. We will keep you posted as these potentially new and expanded corridors progress. Please contact us with any questions.
*Q5 Source – DFM Group Statewide Railroad Issues Survey March 2019
*Q6 Source – Rail Passengers Association “Passenger Trains, an Energy and Climate Solution”
* Q7 - $7.5M stat – Twin Cities.com; $21B road cost - MnDOT
*All other stats cited are from MnDOT, WisDOT, and the Great River Rail Commission