Minnesota has many exciting rail and transportation projects currently underway or in the planning stages. With the Twin Cities as the center of the network, Minnesota is perfect for commuter and high-speed rail. Completed projects include a new train station in St Paul and improvements on the Amtrak Empire Builder Line.
The Twin Cities are in desperate need of commuter rail to surrounding communities to reduce traffic congestion and improve the region’s economic competitiveness. Minnesota must continue to invest in its passenger rail infrastructure if it wishes to grow its economy, reduce its environmental footprint and continue to attract investment.
The steps Minnesota has taken are positive, but more pro-active planning and thought are needed to truly create the transportation network of the future.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) is scheduled to finish a Tier I Environmental Impact Study (EIS), for 8 potential routes between Rochester and the Twin Cities, in 2015. It would be a dedicated passenger track, which means no slow downs due to freight rail competition, and aims to be time and cost competitive with vehicle and air travel. Preliminary studies estimate that the construction of this corridor will cost $973 million but would inject nearly $1 billion into the Minnesota economy each year. This project is being funded by a public-private partnership, which limits the government financial risk and decreases government subsidies to the project. The private partner will be held accountable for on-time operations, maintenance and growing ridership. If completed this high-speed track would be an exciting first step towards a potential high-speed train connecting the Twin Cities with Chicago. Click here to learn more
The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) moved the planned improvement of the Amtrak Empire line between Chicago-Minneapolis to the Phase I Advanced Planning Stage and are conducting a Tier 1 Environmental Impact Study (EIS) on the segment between Milwaukee and the Twin Cities. They are also exploring allowing passenger trains to share the right-of-way with freight trains, or even operate on a dedicated passenger track. A feasibility study on the addition of a second round trip from Chicago to Minneapolis concluded that a second round trip would greatly increase ridership and increase the viability of the Empire line between Chicago and the Twin Cities. While these steps are positive improvements, real high-speed rail must be initiated between Chicago and the Twin Cities. This is a perfect corridor for high speed rail and it would create a larger network that could be expanded to exclude other cities and states.
This connection is being studied, within the tier I EIS report, for high-speed rail as well as the ability to construct additional capacity to accommodate passenger train frequencies.
This renovation involved a complete restoration of the station’s 1920's aesthetic; but also included modern amenities such as energy efficient lighting and new train platforms. The Union Depot was recognized as an LEED certified building for its commitment to environmental sustainability. In 2014 the station began receiving its first passenger trains in 43 years. Civic leaders foresee the Union Depot as anchoring the whole neighborhood and serving to drive economic output across the city. Click here to learn more
The completion of the Target Field Station was integral in moving forward with the Minneapolis Transportation Interchange. Currently the station serves as a hub for the Blue and Green metro lines and the Northstar Commuter Rail. Most plans for high speed rail into Minneapolis involve using Target Field Station as the hub in Minneapolis. There is also plans to connect Target Field Station to the St Paul Union Depot via light rail. The Minnesota Department of Transportation considers this connection a priority in increasing system efficiency.
Northstar Is the only existing Minnesota commuter rail service operating between Big Lake and downtown Minneapolis. After opening in 2009, the line has seen its ridership increase each year, with ridership in 2013 12% higher than 2012. The line is credited with helping fight congestion on highways 10 and 94. The Northstar is currently 40 miles long, but there are plans to extend it north from Big Lake to St Cloud, 40 miles further. There is popular support among Northstar riders and St. Cloud residents for this expansion, but a lack of federal aid has stymied progress on the project. Click here to learn more
The proposed Minneapolis-Duluth would run 156 miles at speeds of 110 mph, with 5 stops between the Target Field station and the Duluth Depot. A 2013 environmental assessment concluded that this project would have no significant impact on the environment. While the current proposal stands to include 8 round trips a day; the Minnesota Department of Transportation is looking at various ways to increase ridership and make the line profitable. These possibilities include fewer round trips, selecting different routes for the rail, or altering the speed. Included in the current plan is improvement for rail stations at the 4 intermediate stops and general rail track improvements to accommodate higher speeds and allow passenger trains the right-of-way over freight trains. After being upgraded to the initial planning stages in 2010, a preliminary engineering phase and a Tier 2 project level environmental review will be completed in 2016. Once completed, if funding is secured, the project can be upgraded to the next stage and officials are planning for operation to begin as soon as 2019-2020.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation held a town hall meeting at the beginning of 2015 to hear from Mankato residents about a passenger rail line from the Twin Cities. With Mankato’s population expected to see large growth in the coming decades, the proposed $223 million line is needed to keep the region economically competitive, and continue to drive economic growth.
Minnesota’s Rail Future is bright. Their 2015 rail plan is a more ambitious plan for the development of passenger rail than their 2010 plan. With plans to develop intercity rail travel, connection to the Chicago Rail Hub and the acquisition of lines for passenger trains, Minnesota is ready to develop a sophisticated rail network for the future.
Minnesota’s Rail Future is bright. Their 2015 rail plan is a more ambitious plan for the development of passenger rail than their 2010 plan. With plans to develop intercity rail travel, connection to the Chicago Rail Hub and the acquisition of lines for passenger trains, Minnesota is ready to develop a sophisticated rail network for the future. Moreover, through its improvements and the number of projects moving forward in the planning stages, Minnesota clearly demonstrates its commitment to the construction of a 21st century transportation system that serves all citizens.Click here to learn more