2021 Annual Report
January 25, 2022
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 2021 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.
MN Legislature funds TCMC Second Train
The biggest story of the year was securing capital funding for the TCMC Second Train from the state of Minnesota. The project will receive $10 million from a transportation funding package signed into law by Governor Tim Walz. The funds, combined with funds committed by Wisconsin and Amtrak, result in a full match for a federal grant awarded last year, and a green light for final design and construction.
Thank you supporters!
Trista MatasCastillo, Great River Rail Commission Chair
What's next for the Second Train?
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is leading the development of the TCMC Second Train project in cooperation with the Minnesota and Illinois Departments of Transportation.
The next steps include: 
  • Detailed design of track improvements
  • Service contracts between the states, the host railroad (Canadian Pacific) and the service operator (Amtrak)
  • Secure sustainable operating funding sources
  • Construction of improvements
Final design is expected to occur in 2022, with construction completed in 2023 and 2024. The service could begin in 2024.

Commission Update
Commission advocacy results in funding
The Great River Rail Commission’s efforts to advocate for the TCMC Second Train succeeded! The goal was to make people aware of the Second Train’s progress at the legislative session to have $10 million signed into law. The commission’s efforts included sending postcards to legislators and local elected officials, working with local business leaders including chambers of commerce, holding virtual Town Forums via Zoom, sending e-newsletters and e-blasts to our subscribers, maintaining an engaging presence on social media, as well as creating a video. All of this work was intended to convey important information about the Second Train and the impact it would have on communities, businesses, and people who continue to use the train for business and pleasure. After the TCMC Second Train funds were approved, the commission continued to hold meetings, distribute updates and plan for future support of the further development of passenger rail service.
Commission elects new chair
Meet Trista MatasCastillo
A mother, a wife, a veteran, an advocate. A few terms that describe Trista MatasCastillo. At age 17 she joined the United States Navy and served on active duty for 16 years. She has also served as an officer in the Navy-Marine Corps and the Army National Guard.

An outspoken advocate for affordable housing, homelessness, mental health, disability services, veterans services and more, MatasCastillo has been a successful organizer of programs such as Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, Homes for All Coalition, and the Women Veteran Initiative.

She has spoken across the U.S. and internationally about the veteran community and the issues they are faced with. Having served as a Ramsey County Veterans Court Advocate, she is frequently involved in assisting veterans to access services and connect with community resources. 

She was elected to the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners in 2018 and was elected chair of the county board in 2022. At its organizational meeting of January 6, 2022, Trista was elected to chair the Great River Rail Commission.

Trista and her husband Hector reside in St. Paul and have 5 sons.
Vice-chair Drotos re-elected
Paul Drotos was re-elected January 6 to the vice-chair position on the Great River Rail Commission. He has been a commissioner in Goodhue County since 2016, was elected vice chair of the county board in 2019, and served as chair in 2020. He has served as an environmental officer for the city of Red Wing and has been involved with many local groups.
New opportunities for passenger rail
Federal infrastructure bill
On November 5, 2021, Congress passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, with $66 billion expected to go towards railway expansion and repair. According to Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn, this could lead to the largest expansion in Amtrak’s history. Read Flynn's interview with Axios.

Regional organization promotes passenger rail development
The Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission is a regional passenger rail development agency that includes representatives from Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, North Dakota, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The MIPRC advocates for creating and maintaining modern, clean, and efficient passenger rail. 

In the MIPRC’s meeting this past October, 2022 plans were discussed. These plans included
  • MIPRC moving to become an eligible grant recipient
  • Support a grant application to overhaul Midwestern equipment pool’s Siemens “Charger” locomotives
  • Continue to push for the reauthorization of the FAST Act

Amtrak Connects US
In 2021, Amtrak released its vision for the future of passenger rail in the United States called Amtrak Connects US. This vision for the future includes more accessibility coupled with environmental and economic benefits. Amtrak would like to increase rail service to 47 of the top 50 metropolitan areas, connect 160 communities across the U.S., and provide over 500,000 jobs. The vision is meant to be a starting point for a discussion of how to serve more Americans with this convenient, safe transportation alternative. The map below shows a vision for service in the Midwest,

All Aboard Minnesota
All Aboard Minnesota continues to advocate for more passenger rail options in Minnesota. In 2022, they plan to build on the greater MnDOT state rail plan with outreach initiatives and legislative advocacy, as well as expand communication through multiple media channels and partnerships. AAMN is a strong partner with the Great River Rail Commission.

Passenger rail in the United States
Amtrak continued focus on customer safety and experience while recovering ridership. Amtrak reported that business is at about 70% of pre-COVID levels, expecting to reach 80% in the upcoming year. More than $2.2 billion in infrastructure and fleet work was advanced and ridership came in at 12.2 million trips with operating revenue of $1.08 billion, $400 million over budget.

MDOT's statistics have found an increase of 78% in annual ridership since 2002. Studies point to students and other young people as frequent riders. Passenger trains have traveled up to 110 mph since 2012 on segments of the corridor that connects Chicago and Detroit/Pontiac, with plans to upgrade speeds on additional segments.

Illinois has 11 Amtrak routes serving stations in 36 communities. Currently there are four state supported routes. Chicago has become a hub for train travel with routes going in seven different directions from the city.

Amtrak has been developing plans for new routes with the $66 billion going towards railways from the recent infrastructure bill. One of these proposed routes includes a path through Indiana with 7 stops in the state, including Indianapolis.

The state of Maine is studying the feasibility of connecting Lewiston-Auburn and Portland, Maine's two largest cities, with passenger rail service. The new service would connect with a passenger rail network that extends from Portland to Boston and beyond. Meanwile the Downeaster train celebrated its 20th birthday.

North Carolina
Over the past 25 years, the N.C. Department of Transportation has invested more than $1 billion of state and federal funds in state-supported intercity rail projects. There are a number of passenger rail projects in development in the state.

15 W. Kellogg Blvd., Suite 210
Saint Paul, MN 55102
Phone: (651) 266-2790
Header photo courtesy of Amtrak/Marc Glucksman