Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

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Didier
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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby Didier » March 14th, 2021, 10:12 pm

Isn’t the St. Louis - Chicago upgrade still inexplicably not done?

DanPatchToget
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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby DanPatchToget » March 15th, 2021, 8:52 am

It appears that is the case. I tried a booking on the Lincoln Service to see what the travel time is and yes it's still around 5 hours 35 minutes. https://www.stltoday.com/news/local/gov ... 558f1.html

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Tcmetro
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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby Tcmetro » March 15th, 2021, 11:00 am

I believe it's only running at 90 mph. For some reason 110 mph operations are delayed. I can't remember where I saw that, may have been on the Railroad.net forums.

HKM
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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby HKM » March 15th, 2021, 4:18 pm

The schedule listed above would mean about 65 minutes off the roundtrip vs. the Empire Builder's schedule but should do a lot better than the Empire Builder's unacceptable 46.1% on-time performance (defined as no more than 15 minutes later than scheduled) from both 2018 & 2019. I find it interesting that if you were to do a hypothetical drive from Chicago Union Station that hits all of the 12 listed stops on the way to St. Paul Union Depot that the listed train schedule is about 80 minutes faster than driving according to Google Maps (though again that means nothing without on-time performance). It makes me wonder what the travel time and on-time performance could get to if some of the stops for the second train were removed. At a minimum, I'd like to see what it would look like without Portage and Red Wing (likely insignificant travel time difference) but would really like to see the comparison to a potential Chicago-Milwaukee Intermodal-Columbus (Madison)-La Crosse-St. Paul route.
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mulad
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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby mulad » March 16th, 2021, 10:22 am

There is a section of 110-mph track on the Lincoln Service between Chicago and St. Louis, but I think it's still not much more than the initial 15 miles they inaugurated between Pontiac and Dwight, IL a long time ago. They're pretty low on excuses now, though it kind of sounds like the remaining hangups are with grade crossings, which are a whole topic in themselves. It would be best to seek enough funding to do grade-separation with bridges and tunnels as often as possible (or simply closing off roads, though I think most of the low-hanging fruit there has already been handled over the past few decades). Full grade-separation theoretically lets you go up to 125 mph with mixed freight and passenger service, not that the freight operators would really like it... Going faster than that means having true passenger-only HSR lines (though I've always thought mail/parcel delivery would be a good fit for HSR).

I appreciate the comment about possibly removing stops, but in my opinion, it's better to leave that discussion for when there are several more trips per day on the line, and then it would make more sense to have a mix of express and local trains -- perhaps even regional train trips that only run from the Twin Cities (or some point north/west of the metro) down the river to end in Winona or La Crosse, but also hitting more places like Hastings and Lake City. Also be careful with those Amtrak ridership numbers, since there are many trains serving Chicago, and the Hiawatha has several daily round-trips. On a per-train basis, Glenview and Sturtevant don't look that great either.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby Silophant » March 16th, 2021, 10:41 am

It occurred to me the last time I drove down to Wabasha to visit my sister that, in the theoretical future when we've got, say, a 4x daily regional service between the metro and La Crosse, it would make sense for the Empire Builder and other Chicago-bound services to stay on the less-populated Wisconsin side of the river and run nonstop between SPUD and La Crosse, though now that I'm looking at a map that might not work without moving the La Crosse station even further from downtown than it already is.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby mulad » March 16th, 2021, 8:39 pm

Well, I saw a news article saying that MN Senate President Jeremy Miller (R-Winona) had introduced a bill to cover this (SF1962, with HF1639), so I looked it up. It's actually for $160 million and allows the money to be spent on multiple routes beyond the second train, including Northern Lights Express to Duluth (which I think needs at least $110 million if it's able to do an 80/20 match from the feds for the $550 million it's been estimated to cost) and lines to Northfield/Albert Lea (which could extend to Des Moines), Mankato, Moorhead (Fargo), and Eau Claire, WI.

https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/bill.p ... n=0&y=2021

I'm hoping that's enough to get the NLX project moving, though I can't say for certain whether it would be enough (the cost estimate may have changed or it may not qualify for the 80% match), but if $110 million is all they need and $10 million covers this second train, then there's $40 million left to spread among the other corridors for planning, or perhaps it would be enough on its own to cover one of the others (I'd guess a second trip up to Fargo would be the most likely candidate).

The only downside is that it's a bonding bill, which means it eats into the $200 million limit for railroad bonding that's in the state constitution (Article XI, Sec. 5.i.)

https://www.revisor.mn.gov/constitution/#article_11

Trademark
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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby Trademark » March 17th, 2021, 10:30 am

Well, I saw a news article saying that MN Senate President Jeremy Miller (R-Winona) had introduced a bill to cover this (SF1962, with HF1639), so I looked it up. It's actually for $160 million and allows the money to be spent on multiple routes beyond the second train, including Northern Lights Express to Duluth (which I think needs at least $110 million if it's able to do an 80/20 match from the feds for the $550 million it's been estimated to cost) and lines to Northfield/Albert Lea (which could extend to Des Moines), Mankato, Moorhead (Fargo), and Eau Claire, WI.

https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/bill.p ... n=0&y=2021

I'm hoping that's enough to get the NLX project moving, though I can't say for certain whether it would be enough (the cost estimate may have changed or it may not qualify for the 80% match), but if $110 million is all they need and $10 million covers this second train, then there's $40 million left to spread among the other corridors for planning, or perhaps it would be enough on its own to cover one of the others (I'd guess a second trip up to Fargo would be the most likely candidate).

The only downside is that it's a bonding bill, which means it eats into the $200 million limit for railroad bonding that's in the state constitution (Article XI, Sec. 5.i.)

https://www.revisor.mn.gov/constitution/#article_11
The fact that a republican introduced this too means it prolly has a good chance of passing

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby twincitizen » March 17th, 2021, 3:04 pm

Yeah that definitely gives it a good chance in the Senate, given that you'd likely have all Democrats, independents Bakk/Tomassoni, and the GOP Senate President (2nd in command after Gazelka). However, remember that bonding bills require a 3/5ths supermajority to pass, so you need buy-in from the minority party in both chambers. Also, MN typically doesn't do bonding bills in odd-numbered years, which are reserved for passing a budget. Especially after passing the largest bonding bill in history in late 2020. Who knows if the GOP minority in the House will be interested in agreeing to a bonding bill at all this year...

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby mulad » March 17th, 2021, 3:15 pm

Oh fun, we have our own filibuster-y rule, huh? I was not aware of that. I hope this could pick up votes from several outstate senators who live along the various routes that would be able to go into full study/planning if there's enough money left over for that.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby tmart » March 18th, 2021, 6:59 am

Oh fun, we have our own filibuster-y rule, huh? I was not aware of that. I hope this could pick up votes from several outstate senators who live along the various routes that would be able to go into full study/planning if there's enough money left over for that.
Could be worse: issuing more than $300k in bonds in California requires 2/3 of the legislature and a referendum.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby grant1simons2 » March 18th, 2021, 10:42 am

Wow this country really just hates trains, huh.

tmart
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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby tmart » March 18th, 2021, 11:06 am

Wow this country really just hates trains, huh.
To clarify, the California rule I mentioned is for all bonds, not just rail-related ones. But it is quite frustrating and odd that the MN constitution puts specific limits on rail bonding but explicitly allows unlimited highway and airport bonding. (It's also dumb and frustrating that it's a fixed dollar amount with no indexing for inflation; I do not understand how people whose job it is to write policy keep making such a basic mistake, but I digress.)

I wonder if maybe it has to do with this bit:
(i) to improve and rehabilitate railroad rights-of-way and other rail facilities whether public or private, provided that bonds issued and unpaid shall not at any time exceed $200,000,000 par value;
Perhaps it was meant as a constraint/compromise since most of the other possible bonding is only for public facilities. To my reading, the state could probably still issue unlimited railroad-related bonds under category (a); it would just have to meet other conditions (a 3/5 majority and only spending on public lands, not private right-of-way). So I wonder if maybe the amendment was meant to make it easier to pass railroad bonds (for improvements to private ROW without a supermajority), within a limit.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby Korh » March 18th, 2021, 2:08 pm

Anyone know when the 3/5 bonding bill rule was introduced? Cause part of me suspects that it (and the unlimited nature for airports and highways) might be close to 50-60 years old now.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby Silophant » March 31st, 2021, 6:30 pm

On the heels of Biden's infrastructure bill announcment, Amtrak released a proposal for what they'd like to build over the next 15 years. Locally, it includes NLX and the second Chicago service, but proposes that that second service go through Madison instead of bypassing it, and additionally proposes a service from MSP to (presumably) Chicago via Eau Claire.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby grant1simons2 » March 31st, 2021, 7:01 pm

Just as a major side note, why don't we even discuss a TC -> Des Moines -> St. Louis rail line?

Korh
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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby Korh » March 31st, 2021, 8:06 pm

As a 15 year plan I actually see it as somewhat practical and potentially doable even if they don't have political favor backing them for all said 15 years. With regards to MN I wonder if this will mean Target Field station might officially become an amtrak station since I know we've discussed at length why the NLX can't be routed to SPUD and why the current empire builder can't make a stop at Target Field.
Maybe either the second empire builder or new Eau Clair route can terminate at TF along with the NLX so each station sorta of gets half.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby Tom H. » March 31st, 2021, 9:07 pm

Does this mean we're getting essentially 3 daily trips to Chicago under this plan? Empire Builder, 2nd daily via Madison, 3rd daily via Eau Claire? I wonder if they'll through-route NLX with any of those routings.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby pillsdoughboy » March 31st, 2021, 9:17 pm

Maybe the map doesn't portray all of the ins and outs of the Amtrak network, but based on this map it looks like Rochester was overlooked even though it lies directly on the route from Madison to MSP? This seems like a snub, especially considering some of the other proposed stops are substantially smaller and of less economic importance (Eau Claire? Christiansburg, VA? Concord NH? Reading PA? Ronkonkoma??).

I know we can't always win, but I feel like the corridor from Madison to Rochester to MSP could has the potential to become an even greater hub for medicine, med-tech, and healthcare. I think it's a missed opportunity!

Silophant
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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby Silophant » March 31st, 2021, 9:33 pm

The big caveat with this plan is that Amtrak doesn't build or own its own track, with the exception of the Northeast Corridor between Boston and DC. Instead, it just uses existing freight routes, and there is not (maybe never has been?) a direct route between the Twin Cities and Rochester. So, barring construction of an entirely new dedicated corridor like the Zip Rail proposal, any Amtrak service to Rochester would have to start by going 40 miles east or west to get to Winona or Owatonna before turning north to the Cities.


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