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 for the entire route. These include track and signal upgrades, new sidings, station enhancements, professional services, and contingency planning. Minnesota appropriated $10M in 2022 to leverage a $38M Federal grant for these costs. This infrastructure work is scheduled to begin in the second quarter of 2024, and to be completed by mid to late 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. The Minnesota legislature provided $5M in operating funds that would cover the first two years. MnDOT did receive an operating grant from the Federal Railroad Administration in 2020, and the state funds appropriated in 2023 would leverage that grant. As is the largely the case with other corridor services around the country ridership increases over time, lessening the needs over time for states to kick in operating funds. This is the case with the Chicago- Milwaukee Hiawatha service.
Q3. What are the next steps for the 2nd Train; when could it run?
Answer - Now that the infrastucture and operating costs have been funded by Minnesota, the train can begin largely at any time. As we understand it, there are stilll some operating agreements and service plans to complete, and Amtrak will need to allocate equipment and crews for this new service. Given Amtrak's current operational state and lack of equipment, this could be a barrier. But, the service could begin as early as late 2023.
Q4. What are the Capital costs to enable Twin Cities to Duluth service?
Answer - MnDOT’s current estimate is around $775M, which includes new stations, railroad infrastructure upgrades to allow 90 mph running speeds, 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 - Now that the state has fully funded the state grant ($195M) to leverage federal funds for construction as outlined in Q4 and the Federal grants are secured, construction can begin. It is estimated that consruction will take approximately five years to complete. All of the environmental assessments, and design studies been completed by MnDOT, and is called “shovel ready.”
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