Tri-state passenger rail gets $31.8 million federal grant

In October 2021, the Midwest Regional Rail Plan proposed a “40-year vision” to create a high-speed rail system that would run from Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison to the Twin Cities, as well as other Midwestern branches and cities.

Rail lines that currently serve commuters in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois may soon see upgrades that will double available round trips, according to an announcement from the Minnesota and Wisconsin Departments of Transportation.

The two states announced on Wednesday that a $31.8 million federal grant had been received for improving stations and rail segments to double passenger rail service and increase freight efficiency along of the corridor that connects the twin cities, La Crosse, Milwaukee and Chicago.

According to the announcement, the Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago (TCMC) intercity passenger rail project will add a second daily passenger train round trip along the corridor shared by Amtrak Empire Builder and Hiawatha Service trains.

When combined with the Empire Builder, the corridor will offer two daily round trips between St. Paul and Chicago, scheduled to begin in 2024.

Rail improvements will reduce train congestion, modernize sections of track and speed up the movement of goods.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Minnesota Sen. Dibble, who spoke at an event at the Amtrak La Crosse station celebrating the completion of funding for the second daily train. “This is a great day for transportation. Minnesotans deserve a modern transportation system built for the 21st century and I am grateful for the collaboration among states and public and private entities to bring this second train into service.”

The 411-mile corridor between St. Paul and Chicago will offer two daily round trips, with departures scheduled for each city in the morning and midday. The first year of service is expected to serve more than 124,000 passengers.

“This vital rail project came about because the federal government recognized not only its importance to the region, but also the extraordinary collaboration between states, local economic groups, and freight and passenger rail transportation,” said WisDOT Secretary Craig Thompson said in a statement announcing the grant. “The team effort we celebrate today brings us a stronger and more diverse transportation infrastructure.”

The line improvements are expected to save $34.7 million in freight costs over the next 30 years of operation. Crossing improvements will reduce downtime and capacity improvements will increase efficiency.

Once known as “Amtrak Joe,” the Biden administration has made expanding commuter rail lines a priority.

In October, the Federal Railroad Administration proposed to create high-speed rail lines that would connect much of the Midwest, including Minnesota.

The Midwest Regional Rail Plan offers a “40-year vision” to create a high-speed rail system that would run from Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison to the Twin Cities, as well as other Midwestern branches and cities.

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