March 18, 2019
Thank you for your interest in the Twin Cities - Milwaukee - Chicago (TCMC) Second Train project and expanded passenger rail options along the River Route. Please forward this newsletter to friends and colleagues who may be interested in passenger rail news.
New Name New Train
By now you have probably seen our new name, Great River Rail! Our mission had evolved over time to advocating for a second daily round-trip passenger train (TCMC Second Train) with a vision of faster, more frequent trains in the future. The new name better reflects this updated mission and vision. 

Please find us at our new web address at
 Follow us on facebook here:
Supporter Spotlights
2018 was another great year for connecting with our supporters via social media, email, and in-person at events. Our website highlights some of the statements you've made about how an additional round-trip daily train between the Twin Cities and Chicago would benefit you.

Our newest spotlight features a college student from Red Wing named Calli who uses the train to get to and from school in Milwaukee. Your stories about how you would use the TCMC Second Train help legislators see the value in funding the project. Contact us at  to share your story and be featured on the  Supporter Spotlight .

"When I started college at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, I knew it wouldn't be easy for me to travel home often. I didn't have a car, and it wasn't practical for my parents to regularly drive five hours to pick me up. The Empire Builder was a huge help, especially during my first couple of years at school. It was a convenient, inexpensive, and safe way to travel and made it possible for me to visit home more frequently than if I was driving/being driven. The Empire Builder has also made it feasible for college friends to visit me in Red Wing and for my sister to visit me in Milwaukee. I think a second train from the Twin Cities to Chicago would be an incredibly valuable asset that I know my friends and I would utilize."

Calli's story is a great example of how college students can benefit from additional passenger rail options. We have heard this before from parents of college students. Our supporter, Tinne, says: "I would use another daily trip between the Twin Cities and Chicago to bring my daughter home after a morning exam in Chicago."
TCMC Second Train and Commission Updates
Phase 1 is done! Bring on phase 2!
The Minnesota Department of Minnesota, in partnership with the Wisconsin and Illinois DOT, Ramsey County the La Crosse Area Planning Committee and the Federal Railroad Administration, led the first phase of planning for Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago Intercity Passenger Rail Service (TCMC Second Train) beginning in 2016. The study included a series of activities required by the Federal Railroad Administration to qualify for federal capital funds, such as developing a purpose and need statement, alternatives analysis, operations analysis,conceptual engineering for infrastructure improvements, and capital cost estimates. The next phase will include selection of an alternative (a specific service plan) and an environmental study where track improvements are to be made. Much more information is in the new Fact Packet .

Photo: Amtrak/Marc Glucksman
The Great River Rail Commission is more focused than ever on the TCMC Second Train and expanding passenger rail service along the River Route. New commission Chair Mark Vaughan, council member from Hastings, and Vice Chair Paul Drotos, commissioner from Goodhue County, are committed to continuing the mission of serving the communities along the route with a great transportation alternative that allows for more people to take more trips. 

In 2018, the commission was a big part of legislative efforts and coordination with groups like All Aboard Minnesota to host events along the route and spread the word about the project. These efforts will continue in 2019 so keep following the commission and find the best way to get involved!  About the Commission
Legislative Update
The 2018 Minnesota legislative session did not fund second phase of planning for the TCMC Second Train, but the Great River Rail Commission is back in the 2019 session with a new request. Two sets of bills have been introduced, one specifically for the second train ( HF 1804 ,   SF 1975 , and one for passenger rail improvements statewide ( HF1493 SF 1866 ). Governor Walz’s capital budget request includes $11 million for passenger rail planning activities. Some of that funding could be used for the TCMC Second Train.

It is critical that legislators hear from Minnesotans at the right time between now and mid-May. We'll be in contact with you to ask for your help. Thank you for staying engaged!
All About All Aboard Minnesota
All Aboard Minnesota continues to advocate for more passenger rail options in Minnesota. In 2018, they were a valuable partner and strong advocate for the TCMC Second Train project. The organization hosted meetings in River Route towns for both business leaders and local government officials, as well as public forums raising awareness of the project. They also emphasized their commitment to continuing to advocate for the funding of the phase 2 study for the second train as part of their annual meeting and presentations. 

The group also organized a Day on the Hill event this month where rail supporters could engage directly with state legislators.

Visit their website to find out more about  All Aboard Minnesota
Revisit media coverage from the  passenger rail forum in Winona
Amtrak Update
Amtrak saw another record breaking year in 2018 with record revenue earnings and operating performance during the 2018 Fiscal Year. The company earnings improved 13.3 percent over 2017 with steady ridership of 31.7 million trips taken. Amtrak also saw the highest level of capital investment in recent history with $1.46 billion. 

Amtrak has a renewed focus on safety and is implementing a Safety Management System to help anticipate and avoid risks. Implementation of the Positive Train Control system was heavily pursued in order to better manage speeds and safety across the rail network. 

Stations across the country saw improvements, and upgrades and improvements to infrastructure took place with the cooperation of local governments and other partnerships.  Read more about Amtrak's accomplishments in 2018 .

Ridership on the Empire Builder was down slightly with a total of 428,854 trips taken, but the Hiawatha Service between Milwaukee and Chicago saw record high ridership with 844,396 passengers in the 2018 fiscal year. The route is the 8th busiest in the Amtrak network and busiest in the Midwest. This is good news for the TCMC Second Train project, which would also serve the stations on the Hiawatha route and continue on to the Twin Cities. Plans to add more trips to the Hiawatha are currently on hold while the Illinois Department of Transportation addresses local community concerns.  Read more.  
Passenger Rail in Minnesota and the
United States
Taking a train between the Twin Cities and Duluth continues to become more of a reality. In 2018 the NLX project reached the end of their study phase with the Federal Railroad Administration and MnDOT announcing a finding of no significant impact for the project. NLX is in the process of finding funding including federal funds to cover 80% of the project. 
Officially, the MnDOT Passenger Rail Office has been absorbed by the Office of Freight and Commercial Vehicles within MnDOT, but staff continue work including overseeing projects like the TCMC Second Train and NLX. MnDOT continues to work toward implementing the Statewide Freight and Passenger Rail Plan that was refreshed in 2015. 

Rail continues to be a popular travel alternative in the United States. Amtrak once again saw record ridership, revenue and earnings for its fiscal year. Projects around the country have been moving forward with more people being able to connect to other cities via an affordable and environmentally-friendly travel alternative. College students are using trains to get to and from school, families are taking summer vacations via Amtrak, and faster and more frequent trains allow another option for business travelers. 

Station upgrades and infrastructure improvements continue between Chicago and St. Louis where the vision for trains traveling up to 110 mph continues to move forward. Safety and reliability are the focus on the construction phase of this project as the final pieces are coming together. The corridor is a single track which is being upgraded, but the vision for the future is a second track which is not currently funded. Work will continue on environmental assessment, Positive Train Control installation, and construction and upgrades of crossings and bridges. 
Travelers in Florida are enjoying new passenger rail service on the only privately owned, operated and maintained system in the United States. Brightline connects West Palm Beach, Forth Lauderdale and Miami with plans to provide future service to Orlando. 
Construction continues in California with the California High-Speed Rail Authority seeing challenges and progress during 2018. The project is under construction, but has budget and delay issues.  
Significant progress continues in Texas with the privately funded Texas Central Railway project hoping to connect Dallas and Houston. Studies have been released on the preferred alignment and experts are making sure there will be minimal impact on the communities and environment that it travels through. The project also found new support with some new companies as partners. The company also reached an agreement with Amtrak to use Amtrak's reservation system to buy tickets and connect to Amtrak routes. 
A private company called Cascade High Speed Rail, LLC is looking at connecting the Pacific Northwest with a high speed train between Eugene, Oregon and Vancouver, British Columbia. The vision is for true high-speed trains to travel the corridors as well as 110 mph trains connecting smaller communities in the region. 

High-speed rail between Las Vegas and Southern California has a new name in XpressWest. The vision for fully electric high-speed trains traveling at speeds in excess of 150 mph with trains leaving every 20 minutes is in the early stages having completed the environmental review and getting licensing and approvals to construct and operate. The project has recently been acquired by Brightline out of Florida as they look to set up the second privately funded corridor in the country. 
The train serving the Northeast Corridor is still the only example of high-speed rail in the United States with speeds up to 135 mph. The trains will be upgraded in the coming years to a new fleet of faster moving trains. The corridor continues to be a very popular and busy one moving business travelers and more across the northeast. 

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Union Depot, Suite 200, 214 4th St. E.
St Paul, MN 55101
Phone: (651) 266-2790
Header photo courtesy of Amtrak/Marc Glucksman