The final piece of the local funding puzzle for a second daily train between the Twin Cities, Milwaukee and Chicago fell into place on June 26 when Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed a transportation omnibus funding bill that includes the state’s share of non-federal money for the long-planned project.
HF 10 allocates $10 million as a one-time appropriation available through June 2025. MIPRC Commissioner Rep. Alice Hausman sponsored the original bill (HF 1637), which was ultimately included in HF 10, to fund the second train.
“I was quite excited to get the $10 million,” Hausman said. “The federal money was there. The Wisconsin money was there. It was the Minnesota piece [that was missing]. We’re ready to go.”
According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the next step for the project will be finalizing a memorandum of understanding between Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Amtrak and the Canadian Pacific Railway (the host railroad). If approved by all parties, the agreement would go to the Federal Railroad Association (FRA) to begin the process of allowing the entities to accept federal grant dollars awarded in 2020.
In September 2020, the project, known as “Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago,” or TCMC, was awarded a $31.8 million Consolidated Railroad Infrastructure and Safety Improvement (CRISI) grant from the FRA to pay for improvements in Wisconsin and Minnesota on the Canadian Pacific’s Soo Line route to allow for a second daily passenger rail frequency. Work will include upgrades to communication and signaling, extension of rail sidings and lead tracks in rail yards, grade crossing improvements, and the reconstruction and modification of new turnouts and mainline track .
As part of that grant’s required non-federal match of $21.6 million, Wisconsin’s share is $6.5 million and Amtrak dedicated $5 million. Amtrak has also committed additional funding to upgrade a station in Winona. Minnesota’s $10 million was the final piece of that match.
TCMC rail service is anticipated to begin in 2024.
Earlier in 2020, the project was awarded a $12.6 million Restoration & Enhancement (R&E) grant for operating support to offset the cost of the TCMC’s first three years of service.
The TCMC will be an extension of an existing state-supported Milwaukee-Chicago Hiawatha Service train.
In 2019, Wisconsin’s Department of Transportation received two CRISI grants for work related to increasing Hiawatha frequencies along the Milwaukee-Chicago Hiawatha Corridor – $26.6 million for track work in Milwaukee’s Muskego freight yard to remove the flow of freight trains through the city’s intermodal station used by Amtrak; and $2.7 million for signals and centralized train control for about two miles of track near the interermodal station, which will allow trains to operate at higher speeds through the area.
Although the Hiawatha service has multiple frequencies daily between Chicago and Milwaukee, the full Minneapolis/St. Paul-Chicago corridor is currently served only by Amtrak’s daily Empire Builder (Chicago-Seattle/Portland, Ore.), whose eastbound trains are frequently subject to delays from weather and/or freight train traffic. The second daily train will be set approximately four hours apart from the Empire Builder schedule and will make the same 12 station stops as the long-distance service between its endpoints of Minneapolis/St. Paul and Chicago: Red Wing and Winona in Minnesota; La Crosse, Tomah, Wisconsin Dells, Portage, Columbus, Milwaukee and Sturtevant in Wisconsin; and Glenview, Illinois.
Both the CRISI and R&E grant programs were authorized by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015, which was due to expire last year. Congress approved a one-year extension of the act, effective through September 30, 2021.
Funding under this program was made available by the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020, and the Consolidated Appropriations Acts of 2019, 2018 and 2017.
Planning for the TCMC Service began in 2012 when project partners requested that Amtrak assess the feasibility of providing a state-supported second round-trip intercity passenger train service between the Twin Cities and Chicago. More information on the TCMC project can be found on the Wisconsin DOT’s TCMC webpage.