Feds give Wisconsin-Minnesota rail project $31M grant

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The federal government chose the joint Wisconsin-Minnesota Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago (TCMC) Passenger Rail Project to receive a $31.8 million federal rail grant.

The TCMC project will add a daily round-trip between the Twin Cities, La Crosse, Milwaukee, and Chicago along the existing Amtrak Empire Builder route.

“The expanded service provides a much-improved connection between the Midwest economic hubs of Minneapolis/St. Paul, La Crosse, Milwaukee and Chicago,” Craig Thompson, Wisconsin Department of Transportation secretary-designee, said in a statement.

“Just as important is the enhanced service for residents in the many rural communities. They will have increased travel options, with better reliability and on-time performance.”

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced the TCMC has been awarded a Consolidated Railroad Infrastructure and Safety Improvement (CRISI) competitive grant for final design and railroad improvements.

“Minnesotans will benefit from the expanded passenger rail service by having access to a safe, reliable and affordable alternative to driving or flying,” MnDOT Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher said in a statement.

“This project will also help Minnesota create new jobs and generate economic growth in our communities and improve access to higher education facilities along the corridor.”

Improvements include:

  • Increasing the existing rail service from one round-trip daily to two daily round-trips. The new round-trip will have a shorter travel time and greater on-time performance and reliability for regional trips.
  • Doubles schedule options making more regional trips viable by rail. For example, it enables a one overnight business or personal trip to the Twin Cities, Milwaukee, or Chicago from mid-size and rural communities in Wisconsin and Minnesota, which is impossible with the current one-round-trip schedule.

The states and Amtrak need to provide $21.2 million in matching funds to accept the award, which they plan to do.

“Amtrak contributed $5 million to match the grant for this project because it will greatly improve passenger rail service and freight operations in Wisconsin and Minnesota, better connect the Great Lakes states and contribute to the economic competitiveness of cities along the route,” Joe McHugh, Amtrak Vice President of State Supported Services said in a statement.

“The development of corridors is an important part of our mission at Amtrak, where we have a history of success using the foundation of an interregional train such as the Empire Builder and adding round-trip segments to develop a corridor service.”

FRA this year provided a $12.6 million grant for operating support to offset the cost of the first three years of service, according to a press release.

In 2012, project partners requested Amtrak assess a feasibility study of providing a state-supported second round-trip passenger train between the Twin Cities and Chicago Union Station.

Amtrak’s findings in 2015 indicated favorable ridership and revenue projections, with annual ridership at about 155,000 passengers on the additional daily train with a morning departure from Chicago and a mid-day departure from St. Paul.

“MnDOT WisDOT and Amtrak fully intend to advance the project and provide the local match to the CRISI Grant. Contracts and agreements will need to be created and then the final design and construction can occur,” Daniel Krom, Passenger Rail Manager for MnDOT told The Center Square in an email.

“The hope is to have the service running by 2024.”

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