Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago Intercity Passenger Rail Service
About the project
The Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago Intercity Passenger Rail Project (TCMC) will add a second daily round trip passenger train on the 411-mile rail corridor (used by Amtrak’s long-distance Empire Builder) between Chicago, Illinois and the Twin Cities.
The project will provide more choices and travel flexibility, with morning and mid-day departures from St. Paul and Chicago. It will also provide more reliable service with better on-time performance for both passenger and freight trains.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation is working cooperatively with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT), Amtrak, and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The LaCrosse Area Planning Committee and the Great River Rail Commission have also provided funding.
This project is based on recommendations of Amtrak’s 2015 feasibility report (PDF) on the proposed service. The favorable ridership and revenue projections identified in the feasibility report supported a more detailed study of the proposed service.
Phase 1 environmental study
MnDOT and its partners completed a Phase 1 study that evaluated alternatives for track and other infrastructure improvements required for a second trip, along with anticipated costs. The Phase 1 scope of work included:
An operations analysis to evaluate and determine how the additional frequency can be operated most efficiently with freight trains on the Saint Paul to Chicago corridor and integrate with the Hiawatha schedule between Milwaukee and Chicago
Evaluation of railroad infrastructure to determine improvement needs and development of conceptual engineering plans. This will ensure states become eligible for federal funding and allow the project to advance toward implementation
Development of capital cost estimates for approved infrastructure improvements based on the conceptual engineering plans
Stakeholder and public engagement
Phase 2 environmental study
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) has been taking the lead on the final phase of the Project. Phase 2 of the project involves the completion of environmental review and preparation of a Service Development Plan. As of May 2021, MnDOT and WisDOT filed a categorical exclusion with the FRA. MnDOT and WisDOT are anticipating FRA approval by mid-summer. The FRA is also reviewing a draft Service Development Plan.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Consolidated Railroad Infrastructure and Safety Improvement (CRISI) grant awarded $31.8 million in September 2020 for final design and construction of required railroad improvements to implement TCMC passenger trains.
Amtrak has committed $5 million in funding
MnDOT has committed $10 million in funding
WisDOT has committed $6.5 million in funding
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Restoration & Enhancement Program grant awarded $12.6 million in May 2020 to offset cost of operations for the first three years.
On-going operating costs will be shared between Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois.