Study back St. Paul, Minnesota as terminus of second Twin Cities-Chicago train frequency

July 2, 2015

 It is no surprise states seeking to initiate new routes and/or frequencies get “sticker shock” when a new service study is completed. Why is that? Because Amtrak is the highest cost provider of new train services, and under federal law Amtrak must charge for equipment and operations and service in a way that does not result in utilizing federal tax dollars to subsidize the service. States and regional agencies do have alternatives: Trains operated by Amtrak, but utilizing more modern,  comfortable and efficient passenger train cars with higher capacity is one option successfully proven by multiple states. So is “unbundling” the Amtrak service package, and competitive sourcing of functions such as equipment maintenance as well as turnaround service and inspections, and onboard food and beverage service provided by the private sector. States sponsoring intercity rail corridors have selected providers for each, resulting in improved service at lower cost. This news story need not have had an unhappy ending. – James E. Coston, Chairman, Corridor Capital LLC

 

Amtrak has published a new study looking at the possibility of adding a second daily round-trip trip from Chicago to the Twin Cities.

The verdict? While a stop in Minneapolis or St. Cloud might yield more revenue, the most realistic scenario in terms of reliable scheduling and infrastructure would be to roll into St. Paul’s Union Depot and then head back to the Windy City.

The Amtrak study was requested by the Minnesota Department of Transportation in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and La Crosse County, Wis.

No actual projects have been funded or are planned, but a second trip from Chicago to St. Paul on a service like Amtrak’s Empire Builder has been high on the wish list for the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners.

The study examined four scenarios, including stops in St. Paul (at an initial capital cost for railroad infrastructure improvements of $142 million); St. Paul and Minneapolis ($161 million); St. Paul, Fridley and St. Cloud ($241 million); or St. Paul, Minneapolis and St. Cloud ($257 million).

“Ridership and revenue are higher for the St. Cloud and Minneapolis route scenarios,” states the report, “resulting in lower state operating payments. However, the capital costs are significantly higher.”

“The complexity of railroad operations and infrastructure issues are considerably greater west of St. Paul because of the number of host railroads, rail congestion, and capacity issues.”

 

Frederick Melo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press has the full story, including a link to the study findings by clicking here.

 

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