All Aboard Minnesota Testimony for the House Capital Investment Committee hearing 3-8-2022

March 8, 2022

All Aboard Minnesota testified on behalf of HF 3160 which would provide $26M to study extending the 2nd train frequency between the Twin Cities to Chicago to Fargo/Moorhead, new passenger rail service from the Twin Cities to Des Moines and Kansas City, a dedicated passenger main line between the downtowns of Minneapolis, and St. Paul, and a new maintenance facility to serve these routes and the Northern Lights Express to Duluth.

The testimony is below, along with a letter we sent to the committee for their reference. We will keep you posted as this bill advances, and its Senate companion SF 3632.

AAMN Capital Investment Committee Testimony – March 8, 2022

Re- HF3160

Overview -

  • Good morning, Mr. Chair and committee members, my name is Brian Nelson and I represent All Aboard Minnesota, a non-profit organization dedicated to the development of fast, comfortable, frequent intercity passenger train services within and beyond Minnesota.
  • You should all have received our one-page fact sheet, our regional passenger rail map, and letters in your committee packets.
  • I’m here today to testify in favor of HF 3160, which would provide $26 million to help build out the state rail passenger plan.
  • HF 3160 would fund two key routes that connect rural Minnesota communities to regional and metropolitan centers. These routes would allow the flow of dollars and people to and from these communities that are currently only accessible by auto.

What does this bill do?

  • You can see on the map we provided there are two routes for added and new service.
  • Last year, the Legislature passed funding to complete the 2nd daily train between the Twin Cities, Milwaukee, and Chicago. HF 3160 would extend this route from the Twin Cities to Fargo-Moorhead.
  • HF 3160 would also provide funding for a study for new passenger service between the Twin Cities, Des Moines, and Kansas City.
  • These routes were chosen because they offer the most potential, as defined by ridership and population served, infrastructure already in place, existing private investment, and cost effectiveness.
  • Finally, HF 3160 would allow MnDOT to study a dedicated main line between Minneapolis and St Paul downtowns, something railroads are likely to ask for because of capacity demands. It would also provide funding for a maintenance facility to service the two new routes and the forthcoming Northern Lights Express.

What are the benefits to Minnesota? -

  • These routes would provide new or expanded rail service to more than 30 MN communities within 25 miles of the routes and serve about 70% of the state’s population.
  • Passenger rail provides a mobility option for a variety of audiences. Winter driving conditions can be treacherous along I-94 and I-35 in winter especially for elderly already hesitant to drive in these conditions. Even in some of the worst winter conditions, the train will be running.
  • The route south from the Twin Cities to Des Moines and Kansas City would offer a direct connection for Minnesotans to Amtrak trains serving St. Louis, Denver, cities in Texas, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Currently, passengers must first connect to these services in Chicago.
  • These two routes would not just move Minnesotans to their destinations. People from Fargo, Des Moines, Omaha, Denver, and Kansas City would travel to our state, bringing with them dollars to spend in our communities.
  • Typically, for every one dollar invested in passenger rail service three dollars are returned to the communities served. This is especially important for small and medium sized communities throughout the State.
  • We estimate Union Pacific has already spent $300 million on track and signal improvements on the southern Minnesota route, and BNSF has spent at least $325 on the Twin Cities to Fargo route. This provides a tremendous discount to the state for expansion of passenger rail service.
  • Finally, we have seen other states have expand passenger rail service with high ridership numbers in Michigan, Illinois, Virginia, and North Carolina.
  • We would like to thank Rep. Hausman for authoring this legislation and Chair Lee and the committee for hearing this bill today.
  • Thank you for your time and I stand for any questions.

Letter provided to the committee

Dear Chair Lee and Ranking Member Urdahl,

We are writing on behalf of our members, associates, and supporters to ask that you support funding for HF 3160 and include it in the committee’s Bonding Bill.

All Aboard Minnesota is a non-profit citizen advocacy group that represents more than 2,500 members, friends and supporters throughout the state that actively seek more rail passenger service statewide as a needed transportation option and which will economically benefit the communities served and the state.

A total of $26 Million is requested to accomplish the following in this biennium:

  1. Enable MnDOT to study extending the 2nd train frequency between the Twin Cities and Chicago to Fargo/Moorhead.
    • Projected ridership on a daytime schedule in this corridor estimated to be 100,000 new riders per year
    • Will serve and connect many greater Minnesota communities such as St. Cloud, Little Falls, Detroit Lakes, and Wadena to the Twin Cities
    • Provides freer connectivity of people between urban and rural areas, generating a positive return on investment for the communities served and the state
    • BNSF Railway has invested at least an estimated $325M in this route since 2015, which has reduced the state’s portion of the investment needed for more passenger rail service

  1. New MnDOT service study for passenger service between the Twin Cities, Northfield, Owatonna, to Des Moines, and Kansas City.
    • Projected ridership on this corridor estimated to be over 190,000 riders per year
    • Directly connects Minnesotans to Amtrak trains serving St. Louis, Denver, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and San Francisco without connecting through Chicago first, drastically reducing travel times
    • Connection of metropolitan areas like Des Moines, Kansas City, and Omaha and many rural communities in between to Minnesota, providing freer flow of people and greater economic impact
    • Union Pacific Railroad has invested an estimated $300M recently in this line, which means the line is better prepared to provide passenger service than ever before and will reduce the state’s investment cost

  1. Allow MnDOT to study a dedicated passenger main line between downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis to enhance capacity for these two routes and Northern Lights Express, and a maintenance facility.

Why is it important to fund HF 3160?

  1. Provides the backbone of a statewide public transportation network benefitting college students, families with children, seniors, disabled, and those who can’t drive or fly, as a mobility option. Provides “all weather” transportation especially in treacherous winter conditions
  1. Provides economic stimulus, jobs, local investment, tourism, and a positive return on investment for Minnesota
  2. Utilizes public-private partnerships with freight railroads and Amtrak, minimizing capital expense and operating costs using existing infrastructure. Investment in passenger rail benefits freight operations, speeding goods and services. Both UP and BNSF have invested hundreds of millions in their infrastructure
  3. Connects Minnesota to rural communities and metropolitan areas like Fargo/Moorhead, Des Moines, Kansas City, and Denver, further benefiting our economy
  4. Provides economic competitiveness with other states in the upper Midwest such as Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan which have made significant investments in passenger rail

Minnesota deserves a multi-modal, all-weather transportation network that serves all of its citizens with the options they need. Highways and airways can no longer do this alone. The Minnesota legislature needs to act and provide funding for more passenger trains. Our economic vitality is at stake.

More information can be found on our site: Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Best Regards,

Board of Directors

All Aboard Minnesota