2019 Annual Report ......................................................................... January 23, 2020
Thank you for your interest in the Twin Cities - Milwaukee - Chicago (TCMC) Second Train project and expanded passenger rail options along the River Route. This Enewsletter is our 2019 ANNUAL REPORT. It includes a recap of news and Great River Rail Commission activities over the last year.

Please forward this newsletter to friends and colleagues who may be interested in passenger rail news.
Meeting New People
In 2019, the Great River Rail Commission was excited to increase the number of community events we attended and meet so many more people who are passionate about the expansion of passenger rail. We had tables promoting the TCMC Second Train at Union Depot in Saint Paul, the Winona and Goodhue county fairs, and other events along the River Route. These one-on-one conversations allow us to get to know the community and communicate the benefits of the Second Train project directly to those who would be impacted by more passenger rail options.

As part of these events, dozens of post cards pledging support for the TCMC Second Train project were filled out and sent to legislators and Governor Walz.
Progress Made on Second Train
Phase 1 of planning for the TCMC Second Train project was officially completed in 2019, and Phase 2 was begun, as the state of Wisconsin stepped forward to keep the Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago (TCMC) Second Train on-track and lead the next steps.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation provided $300,000  for the completion of a service development plan and a benefit-cost analysis by spring 2020. Additional funding is required to complete an environmental analysis which is needed to get clearance from the Federal Railroad Administration, and to provide a committed local match to a future federal grant that could pay for up to 59 percent of track and station improvement costs.

MnDOT has recommended that bond funding be included in the Governor’s bonding proposal for expanded passenger rail services in Minnesota. The Wisconsin DOT is also requesting inclusion of passenger rail investment in its Governor's budget.

Active Legislative Support of Second Train
The Great River Rail Commission will once again in 2020 be focused on a push in the state legislature to pass bills to fund the next steps of the TCMC Second Train project. Previous legislative delays have slowed project progress, so It is imperative that state legislators hear from their constituents about their passenger rail expansion opinions.

2019 legislative highlights:
  • Commission emails and social media inspired more than 300 people In November of 2019 to comment on the Second Train at Governor Walz's bonding bill website
  • Commission members appeared at a House of Representatives hearing held in Winona supporting funding for the TCMC Second Train
  • Commission representatives appeared in March before a hearing at the Minnesota House of Representatives Capital Investment committee
  • Commission representatives joined other advocates at a Day at the Capitol event organized by All Aboard Minnesota
  • The Commission hired a lobbyist to track bills and share information about the Second Train with legislators
Supporter Spotlights
We continue to feature spotlights on supporters from around the River Route who have thoughts and stories on how more frequent train trips between the Twin Cities and Chicago could impact them.

This year we met Joua from Saint Paul who said:

"I drive to Chicago at least once per month to visit friends. The train takes about the same time as driving, but the schedule doesn’t work for me. If there were more train trips I would leave the car at home and not have to worry about traffic or parking in Chicago."

Send your story to [email protected] to be featured in Supporter Spotlights!

Busy Year for Commission
2019 was a big year for the Commission, starting with a name change. The Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission changed its name to the Great River Rail Commission to better reflect their vision of expanding passenger rail along the River Route, starting with more frequent trains at conventional speeds.

Other 2019 milestones included:

  • Approved a tagline, “Ride into your future“, to be used in conjunction with its logo
  • Welcomed the Washington County Regional Railroad Authority back to the commission as a dues paying member
  • Amended the joint powers agreement to officially adopt the name Great River Rail Commission
  • Met with legislators in their districts and made appearances at legislative events
  • Staff attended the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission annual meeting in Washington, D.C. in October
  • Worked tables at a variety of events to reach out to the community about the TCMC Second Train
  • Continued additional public engagement work

All Aboard Minnesota
All Aboard Minnesota continues to advocate for more passenger rail options in Minnesota. In 2019, they held a variety of meetings and presentations with residents statewide, and hosted a Day on the Hill event that brought passenger rail advocates and state legislators together.

Passenger Rail in the United States
Amtrak delivered its best operating performance in company history during the 2019 fiscal year. Ridership saw a new record of 32.5 million customer trips, a year-over-year increase of 800,000 passengers as well as improving operating earnings and increasing total operating revenue.

Amtrak became the first major U.S.-based railroad to implement a Safety Management system and completed installation of Positive Train Control on nearly all Amtrak-owned and controlled track.

Amtrak continues to grow and modernize with new equipment on the way, station improvements at several stations, infrastructure improvements, and a focus on customer experience.

Chicago Union Station
One of the stations greatly improved by Amtrak was Union Station in Chicago. Amtrak funded the Great Hall Restoration with a focus on safety and customer experience to serve the 37.6 million annual Amtrak and Metra rail passengers. In 2019, the project was awarded a variety of awards in recognition of the achievements of the renovation. TCMC Second Train service would terminate at this newly renovated landmark station.

Amtrak Hiawatha
The Hiawatha line continues to run between Milwaukee and Chicago, making several trips a day. In 2019, ridership on the line increased by 4.5% with a total of 844,396 trips taken between the two major cities. Wisconsin lawmakers recently approved spending for six new passenger cars and three cab-coach cars for the service. The new cars aim to increase safety by offering more seating since the train is often standing room only. The same stations served by the Hiawatha Service would be served by the TCMC Second Train.

Northern Lights Express
The plans to connect the Twin Cities and Duluth with higher-speed trains continues to move forward with bills being drafted in the Minnesota Legislature to fund the next phase of engineering.

The project proposes four round trips a day with stops in Minneapolis, Coon Rapids, Cambridge, Hinckley, Superior, and Duluth with top speeds of 90 mph and average speeds of 60 mph.

More hearings will be needed as well as funding, but the project remains focused on providing a travel alternative to the many people who regularly drive between the Twin Cities and Duluth. It also offers an alternative to college students at UMD, 40% of which come from the Twin Cities.

Chicago to St. Louis
Another line that hit record ridership in 2019 was the service between Chicago and St. Louis. More than 756,000 riders used the train in 2019 where construction continues to improve tracks and stations to be able to allow for higher speed trains with a maximum speed of 110 miles per hour. Positive Train Control is being installed on the line, which is required for higher speed trains. Once the installation is complete the corridor is nearly ready to start operating at higher speeds.

Virgin Trains (Brightline)
Brightline formed a strategic partnership with Virgin Group to form Virgin Trains. The Florida service continues to be the only privately-owned, operated, and maintained intercity passenger train in the U.S. with higher-speed train service connecting Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach with Orlando service coming soon. The service offers state-of-the-art trains with comfortable seating, on-board Wi-Fi, and lots of amenities. The company has plans for a Las Vegas to Los Angeles project.

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