Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission
January 19, 2018

Thank you for your interest in Minnesota High-Speed Rail and the Twin Cities - Milwaukee - Chicago (TCMC) Second Train project. Please forward this newsletter to friends and colleagues who may be interested in passenger rail news.
2017 Annual Report Commission Update
Each year, we like to review the previous year's accomplishments and look forward to continuous progress on expanding passenger rail in the coming year. 2017 was a big year for the TCMC Second Train and several legislative funding victories at both the state and federal level for passenger rail planning.

The Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission continued to meet every other month and saw attendance increase at meetings throughout the year. The meetings now include a time set aside for public comment on the TCMC study, as well as presentations from the MnDOT Passenger Rail Office.  

MNHSR also had a big presence at Train Day at Union Depot and at the TCMC Second Train Public Engagement Meetings. At Train Day, we collected postcards from rail supporters advocating for the funding of the Passenger Rail Office and for the Second Train and sent them to local legislators. A drawing was also held for attendees of the TCMC meetings as well as many who participated online for folks who offered their time and energy to help publicize the TCMC Second Train in a variety of ways. Our winner won a scenic train trip in Duluth.

We also launched some new website content including continued coverage of our River Route and Commission Member Spotlights.The Get Involved page also relaunched as a multi-tiered approach to getting the word out about the TCMC and passenger rail. If you haven't done so already, visit the page and find ways to get more involved!

We are grateful to all of those who participated with us this year and plan to continue efforts to make these increased passenger rail options along the River Route a reality.

Below are some of the other highlights of the year in the world of passenger rail.
Legislative Update
2017 saw some legislative battles for transportation in the State of Minnesota. Funding for MnDOT's Passenger Rail Office was in jeopardy, which would have halted planning for the Second Train. Thankfully, $1 million was included in the transportation bill that will fund the office for about two years. Legislators said that constituents advocating for the second train and passenger rail were being heard so a big thanks goes out to anyone who called, sent letters or attended meetings. This includes the large group of supporters who sent postcards via the MNHSR booth on Train Day at Union Depot!
At the federal level, funding for Amtrak's long distance routes was threatened, which would have halted the Empire Builder. A number of groups made their voices heard on the subject and several publications took in-depth looks at the matter. Budget proposals have taken aim at Amtrak, but they have yet to move through the Senate.
TCMC Second Train Update and Review
More trains mean more options. The Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission believes that the first step towards a vision of higher-speed trains along the River Route is increasing the frequency of trips. That's where the TCMC Second Train project comes in! The project seeks to implement a second daily round trip passenger train on the Empire Builder route to increase options, improve mobility and minimize costs.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation's Passenger Rail Office took big steps in 2017 to move this project forward. That included a  Purpose and Need Statement that identified exactly why the project was being taken on and completion of activities in Phase 1 of the study. The project is based on recommendations from Amtrak's 2015 feasibility report that found favorable ridership and revenue projections. Phase 2 of the project will involve a complete environmental analysis and a service development plan, but needs funding to move forward.
MnDOT also hosted two well-attended public engagement meetings where a presentation was given and the enthusiasm from the public was evident. If you missed those meetings, you can access all of the materials, as well as view a video of the presentation on the MnDOT Public Engagement website.
You can also submit your comments or questions on the project via the online form .
Stay tuned for more updates on the project and opportunities to get involved.
Amtrak and Empire Builder Update
Amtrak again posted record ridership, revenue and earnings numbers for their Fiscal Year that ended September 30, 2017. Ridership increased 1.5 percent over FY 2016 with a total revenue of $3.2 billion and operating earnings of $194 million. Long-distance routes saw an increase in ridership of 0.9 percent while state supported services saw an increase of 2.1 percent. The organization achieved a new record for cost recovery, covering 94.7 percent of its operating costs with ticket sales and other revenues

Amtrak also launched a national partnership with Lyft leading to 80 percent of customers who used the service to say that it made their Amtrak trip easier. Amtrak will explore opportunities with additional travel partners in 2018 to provide additional connectivity to and from Amtrak trains. 
According to Amtrak, the Empire Builder was the top route for overall ridership and on-time performance for the month of October. The train was on time more than 75% of the time.
High-Speed Rail and Passenger Rail at Home and Abroad
The higher-speed rail connection between the Twin Cities and Duluth/Superior moved forward in 2017 with the Tier 2 Project Level Environmental assessment being available for comment.The project has yet to be funded and is eligible to apply for federal funds to cover 80% of the costs. The Minnesota Department of Transportation has more information on the project site
I n addition to overseeing projects like the TCMC Second Train and NLX, the Passenger Rail Office provides an overall vision for effective use of the state's freight and passenger rail network and its future.
The United States
  Rail continues to be a popular travel alternative in the United States. Amtrak posted record ridership, revenue and earnings for its fiscal year. Several projects are in the works and the US High Speed Rail Association has a vision for a complete national HSR system.
Illinois High-Speed Rail (Chicago to St. Louis)
In 2017, IDOT continued working to make infrastructure improvements along the corridor to support speeds of up to 110 mph. Station upgrades and construction has taken place as well as surveying, tree clearing, fencing installation and utility work. The project will offer an alternative to the thousands of trips that have origins in Chicago or St. Louis along the corridor. It hopes to improve on-time performance of existing service and provide a better, more convenient connection between the two cities.
The express train service will provide safe and fast intercity travel using the existing Florida East Coast Railway corridor between Miami and Cocoa with plans to extend between Cocoa and Orlando. Travel time between Miami and Orlando will be about an hour less than driving. Limited service began in December 2017 with expanded service to follow. Station construction projects and corridor improvements is just some of the recent work completed.

Construction of the 800 mile high-speed rail line up and down the state of California continues as the first leg is set to open in 2025. Despite facing funding, legal and scheduling issues, construction continues on a 119-mile segment of track in the Central Valley. Ultimately the project hopes to offer speeds of 220 mph and serve up to 24 different stations in most of the state's largest cities.
The private, Texas-based company Texas Central continues pursuing their plans to connect Dallas/Forth Worth and Houston with Japanese Bullet Train technology. The trip would take less than 90 minutes. Several potential alignments are being considered with the Federal Railroad Administration preparing an Environmental Impact Statement on the project.
Atlanta and Chattanooga
The next step in determining whether to connect the two southern cities is a Tier 2 study to further understand the impacts and costs. If approved, alignments, stations and more details would be identified though the preferred alignment would be along Interstate 75 that would serve eight stations.
Seattle and Vancouver
Washington Governor, Jay Inslee is looking toward a high-speed train to connect to Vancouver, B.C. that is backed by Microsoft. A study is underway that will determine the feasibility of the line that would transport passengers between the two major cities in less than an hour. Additional modeling is needed as well as further activity from the feasibility study advisory group.
The train serving the Northeast Corridor is still the only example of HSR in the United States with speeds up to 135 mph. Amtrak recently revealed the next generation of trains that will operate along the corridor that would be capable of traveling 160 mph. The prototype will be ready in 2019, with the first entering service in 2021 and all train sets to be in service by the end of 2022.  
Around the World Round-Up
The US High Speed Rail Association has a comprehensive list of countries from all over the world with high-speed rail networks. Some are smaller projects, while others have expansive networks that serve a large amount of the population.
Here are a few pieces of news to keep an eye on:

The company that manages the high-speed rail network in Spain has taken a loan in order to improve links between Madrid and San Sebastian that will support speeds of 250 km/h.
Africa's railway system saw an improvement with a new train capable of reaching 200 mph launching soon in Morocco. Each train is capable of carrying 533 passengers and expansions in the country are planned for the next three decades.
China continues to expand its massive high-speed rail network with plans to connect even more cities. The goal is a 30,000 km network by 2020 that covers 80% of major cities in the country.
South Korea upgraded it's high-speed rail line with new trains in advance of hosting the 2018 Olympics. The journey from Seoul to Gangneung, home of the ice sports at the Games, is just under two hours.
Japanese train technology is heading to India to connect Ahmedabad with Mumbai to shorten the trip from seven hours to just two. The project hopes to connect the manufacturing hub with the largest city and financial center with 12 stations.  

Supporter Spotlights
A big part of our outreach in 2017 involved getting to know community members who are passionate about passenger rail. From those who regularly attend meetings to those who are willing to share their thoughts and opinions on Facebook posts or newsletters, the participation from the community reinforces the desire and need for more rail options.
In addition to a couple of featured Supporter Spotlights from community members who are actively working towards increasing passenger rail options, we have also heard some great comments from a variety of folks.

Here are some of our favorites:
Michael likes riding the train because: "I enjoy the overall smoothness of the ride, and the fact that the engine noise is not either right in front of me, or under my feet. I am also intrigued by traveling through landscape away from highways. It gives me an added perspective of nature."
Ann wants more transportation options for the convenience: "Remember the old ad "Go Greyhound and Leave the Driving to Us"? It still applies! You arrive fresh, don't have to find parking and (hopefully) can step off the train and onto metro transit to get you to your final destinations."
Troy wants more options along the River Route because:  "I would love to be able to go up to the cities from Red Wing without needing to depend on my car, paying for gas, or trying to find parking."
Karen said: "I wish everyone could have the opportunity to ride the high-speed trains in Japan, South Korea, and Europe to see how pleasant such a trip is."
Kathleen sums it all up: "Millennials AND Boomers want this!"
If you would like to be featured on our Supporter Spotlight page, respond to this email and let us know why you want more passenger rail options! Thanks for the continued support we look forward to continuing the discussion into the new year!

Thank you!
Learn more about the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission at our website, or Like us on Facebook.

Thank you for your interest in High-Speed Rail and the TCMC Second Train!