Minnesota Department of Transportation

511 Travel Info

Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago Intercity Passenger Rail Service

Phase I Study (ongoing)


Under the guidance of the Federal Railroad Administration, the Minnesota and Wisconsin departments of Transportation have initiated the Twin Cities - Milwaukee - Chicago (TCMC) Intercity Passenger Rail Service Phase 1 Study to improve passenger rail service on Amtrak's Empire Builder between St. Paul and Chicago and station communities in between. The service would operate at conventional speeds (79 m.p.h.). See the fact sheet (PDF).

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.

MnDOT and its partners are completing the detailed study of the service in two phases. This first phase will evaluate alternatives for track and other infrastructure improvements required for a second round trip, along with anticipated costs. Phase 2 of the project will complete environmental analysis and generate a service development plan.


Primary funding for the Phase 1 study is being provided by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority. In addition, Minnesota High Speed Rail Commission and La Crosse Area Planning Committee are providing contingency funding for the study.

Scope of Work

  • Environmental tasks to prepare a Purpose and Need Statement and a Service Alternatives Analysis that fulfills state and federal environmental requirements
  • 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


The schedule for the Phase I Study includes completion of tasks needed to advance the project to the next phase of service development planning, completion of the environmental review process and advancement of the design for the project. The activities included in the Phase I study and the anticipated schedule for completion of these activities are in the table that follows.

Schedule Timeline Summer 2016 Fall 2016 Winter 2016 Spring 2017 Fall 2017 Winter 2017-18 Spring 2018
Purpose and Need and Alternatives Analysis tasks
Operations analysis
Conceptual engineering for infrastructure improvements
Capital cost estimates
Stakeholder and public agency involvement

(public meeting)