Twin Cities - Chicago
Without Twin Cities
The core route for any expansion of the Minnesota rail network would be connecting the Twin Cities to Chicago with a second train frequency to compliment the existing Empire Builder service. Since the Minnesota Legislature funded this service in the 2021 session to leverage a matching federal grant, this second daily train service will begin rolling sometime in 2024, or maybe even earlier.
This is the highest travel ridership corridor in the state for rail, air and highway travel. There are approximately 10 million highway trips per year, and the Twin Cities to Chicago corridor is unique amongst midwest routes in that 50% of trips are by car, and 50% of trips are by air ( most midwest corridors, such as Chicago to St. Louis, or Chicago to Detroit, are 80-90% by car).
The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has officially selected the current Amtrak route as the designated route for future rail expansion. Currently this route operates at a top speed of 79 mph. We believe this is the best route for conventional speed passenger trains to Chicago. The route currently serves Milwaukee, Columbus (Madison), Wisconsin Dells, La Crosse, Winona and Red Wing on its way to the Twin Cites. We strongly support this route for expanded rail passenger service.
It makes sense for Minnesota to develop this corridor first, as it represents a huge travel market. Parallel I-94 sees 10 million auto trips each year. There are also no less than five round-trip bus schedules, in addition to 1 million air trips annually. MnDOT studies have shown strong ridership potential.
MnDOT is currently proposing one additional train in each direction from St. Paul to Chicago. We strongly believe that such service should also serve Minneapolis since two thirds of the Twin Cities population lives on that side of the metro. With the Amtrak move into St. Paul Union Depot (SPUD) from Midway Station, we now believe serving Minneapolis is imperative.
Ideally, All Aboard Minnesota believes that a total of four daily round trips between Chicago and the Twin Cities could be supported by ridership and farebox revenue.
There has been much debate about potential routes to Chicago and the current route has challenges. We believe an alternative route for future High Speed Rail is on the Union Pacific Railroad via Eau Claire, WI and then south to rejoin the current Amtrak route west of Wisconsin Dells.
The easiest and lowest cost way to develop the current Twin Cities-Chicago corridor with minimal investment is to add a second daytime train on the current Amtrak route at 79 mph on an alternate schedule to the present Amtrak Empire Builder train.
Click here to view a proposed schedule ( note - this schedule proposes and extension of this service to St. Cloud and Fargo/Moorhead )
Watch this video - produced by our partner organization in Wisconsin - Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers - about what this new service could look like: