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Funding committed for environmental assessment of second daily train to Chicago

A study last summer estimated that many people would ride a second daily train between the Twin Cities and Chicago; now several agencies are putting up some money for the environmental assessment of the proposal.

Several agencies have agreed to fund an environmental assessment of a second daily train between the Twin Cities and Chicago.

A study last summer estimated that 155,000 people would use the second train on the route each year.

Amtrak’s daily Empire Builder already includes the Chicago/Twin Cities span on its route. The proposed second train would leave Chicago in the morning and leave St. Paul mid-day.

A coalition has begun providing funding for the environmental assessment, which will cost between $850,000 and $1.25 million, according to the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission.

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The Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority will each provide $300,000 for the project. The Minnesota High Speed Rail Commission committed $50,000 and the La Crosse Area Planning Committee recently provided $10,000.

The remaining funding is still being sought, but officials said work can begin in the meantime. The Minnesota Department of Transportation will be the lead agency.

Ramsey County Commissioner Janice Rettman, chair of the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission, said: “Adding another train would be a major step toward our vision fast, frequent passenger rail service.”

Officials said the environmental analysis is proposed to be completed in two phases:

  • Phase 1 would develop a more detailed service plan and a higher level of detail for equipment needs and railroad track capacity improvements. The feasibility study indicated a preliminary cost estimate of $95 million for railroad capital infrastructure improvements and $46 million for locomotives and passenger cars.
  • Phase 2 would complete the environmental analyses which are needed because of the potential impacts of additional rail traffic in the corridor and improvements to tracks. The environmental work on the second train will be incorporated into the high speed rail project’s Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement. After the environmental analysis is completed and approved in 2017, track improvements could begin and train sets purchased, depending on funding.