The proposed Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago (TCMC) Intercity Passenger Rail Service project between the Twin Cities, Milwaukee and Chicago cleared a procedural hurdle to entering the federal passenger rail program with the release of a Purpose and Need Statement which defines the purpose of the project and the transportation needs addressed by the project, the Minnesota Department of Transportation officially announced on July 25, 2017.
TCMC service, also known informally as the “Second Empire Builder,” focuses on population increases and economic growth projected within the 418-mile rail corridor by providing a second daily roundtrip between the Twin Cities (St. Paul’s Union Depot), Milwaukee and Chicago, in addition to the intermediate cities of Red Wing and Winona in Minnesota; La Crosse, Tomah, Wisconsin Dells, Portage, Columbus, and Milwaukee (both the airport and downtown) in Wisconsin; and Glenview, Illinois.
The “Second Empire Builder” would augment Amtrak’s long-distance Empire Builder service that operates one daily trip in each direction between Chicago and Seattle/Portland, Oregon.
A second train between Chicago and St. Paul would provide flexibility and convenience, oriented towards shorter-distance, intercity travel within the TCMC corridor, according to the statement.
“The second daily train is projected to grow the market and provide greater reliability at conventional speed of 79 miles per hour,” said Dan Krom, director of MnDOT’s Passenger Rail Office, which is leading the planning efforts.
The 24-page document, the 2015 feasibility study, and other reports are available here.
The Purpose and Need Statement is the latest document following 13 studies of the Chicago-Milwaukee-Twin Cities corridor conducted since 1991. The document cites work done in 2015 by Amtrak and the Minnesota and Wisconsin departments of transportation, and concludes that “a second frequency daily train, and the associated infrastructure improvements, would establish a frequency that is more convenient for an intercity travel than currently offered by the Empire Builder service, provides better on-time performance than offered by the Empire Builder, and provides opportunities for non-auto travel within the TCMC corridor and to connect to nearby destinations.”
The statement states a second daily train would help plug four main corridor transportation gaps:
• The communities between the Twin Cities and Chicago have limited non-auto transportation options for trips to the Twin Cities, Milwaukee and Chicago, and the once-daily round trip does not provide adequate connections to nearby destinations or the international airports in Milwaukee and the Twin Cities;
• Population increases and economic growth projected within the TCMC corridor would create additional travel delays on highways and roadways, and strain airline services;
• Once daily round trip passenger rail service between the Twin Cities and Chicago does not provide schedule choices for existing and future intercity travelers, as well as other travelers within the region;
• The Empire Builder service reaches near capacity conditions during peak travel months and travel demand is projected to increase within the TCMC corridor.
The statement also notes the frequency of delays to existing Empire Builder service caused by conditions or situations west of St. Paul, and their impact on travelers along the corridor. “While the TCMC service would not address on-time performance issues of the Empire Builder service, it would provide a new intercity passenger rail service that is not dependent on the long-distance service,” it says.
The statement’s release also marks the beginning of the public involvement and environmental processes for the project. MnDOT officials said it also strengthens the partnership between the Federal Railroad Administration, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois departments of transportation, the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority, Minnesota High Speed Rail Commission, and La Crosse Area Planning Committee. The study also identifies issues within the corridor and defines how service will benefit travelers.
Public information meetings are scheduled for 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 6, in La Crosse, Wisconsin, at the La Crosse County Administrative Center, 212, N. 6th St.; and 5 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 7, in St. Paul, at Union Depot, 214 4th St. East.
Next steps for the proposed project are to evaluate the alternatives for the project and necessary infrastructure upgrades.
The Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois departments of Transportation, in cooperation with the Federal Railroad Administration, Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority, Minnesota High Speed Rail Commission, and La Crosse Area Planning Committee, are working cooperatively on the initial planning effort for the proposed TCMC Project.
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