News & Reviews News Wire Wisconsin, Minnesota, receive $31.8 million to upgrade Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago rail route

Wisconsin, Minnesota, receive $31.8 million to upgrade Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago rail route

By | March 10, 2022

Work will allow second daily passenger round trip, improved freight service

Email Newsletter

Get the newest photos, videos, stories, and more from brands. Sign-up for email today!

Illustration showing locations of construction projects on Amtrak route between Twin Cities and La Crosse, Wis.
Illustration showing locations of construction projects on Amtrak route between Twin Cities and La Crosse, Wis.
A federal grant will help fund these projects to allow additional passenger service between the Twin Cities and Chicago. (TCMC Project)

LA CROSSE, Wis. — Departments of Transportation in Wisconsin and Minnesota will receive a $31.8 million grant for infrastructure upgrades to allow a second Twin Cities-Chicago passenger train, as well as improved freight operation, on the route through La Crosse, Wis.,  and Milwaukee.

Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Amit Bose, Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner, and officials from the two states announced the grant Wednesday in a press conference in La Crosse. The project is expected to allow the second train to begin in 2024 or sooner on the 411-mile route already served by the Empire Builder. The first year of the expanded service is projected to serve more than 124,000 riders, while the improvements are expected to save $34.7 million in freight costs over the next 30 years.

“This vital rail project came together because the federal government not only recognized its importance to the region but the extraordinary collaboration among states, local economic groups and freight and passenger rail,” Wisconsin DOT Secretary Craig Thompson said.

“MnDOT is proud to be a partner in this effort to expand service on the TCMC [Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago] corridor,” Interim Minnesota DOT Commissioner Nancy Daubenberger said. “This grant is an important piece in our shared goals to enhance our regional economies, from the Twin Cities metro area to our thriving small towns in Greater Minnesota.”

Funding will come from the FRA’s Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements, o CRISI, grant program, which Bose noted has received increased funding over the next five years through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. “This funding means even more opportunities like this one to advance transformational rail projects going forward.”

Gardner said the project was possible through the work of Bose, partnerships with officials in the two states, “and our productive relationship with Canadian Pacific … While we cannot announce a TCMC start date — yet — know all of us working together can make this happen in months instead of years.”

More information, including details on specific improvements, is available on the Wisconsin DOT website.

— Updated at 9:45 a.m. CST with graphic showing construction locations.

17 thoughts on “Wisconsin, Minnesota, receive $31.8 million to upgrade Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago rail route

  1. Is there anything to be gained by stopping the new train(s) at Midway as well as St. Paul Union Depot, since they’re going to operate to Midway anyway? I don’t know the distances involved, or what additional business a Midway stop might drum up. Other metropolitan areas have multiple Amtrak station stops of course, and the infrastructure is in place (I assume?) at Midway to institute a stop. Midway should be closer for patrons living in Minneapolis than driving to St. Paul U.D.

  2. In the long run, Minnesota would like to extend the second train to Fargo. It’s doable. BNSF’s ex NP main across Minnesota is the route of the Builder. Mostly two main track CTC, high speed crossovers etc.
    Extending the second train to Fargo would give Fargo east daytime service. Leaving Fargo in the morning and arriving Fargo before midnight would allow day trips to the Twin Cities, minimum (if any) capital improvements would be needed. Play nice with BNSF and could happen sooner than later. Better use of equipment rather than sitting idle forv17 hours at Midway.

  3. I’m curious why Midway station is included, since Amtrak doesn’t stop there any more if I am correct. So, they must plan to turn the train(s) at Midway? Isn’t there a wye near St. Paul Union Depot? I think there used to be. . . . If turning at Midway, how much extra distance/time/expense is required?

    1. They are going to base staff and some of the servicing (probably food) at the abandoned Midway Terminal. There is a wye there used by Minnesota Commercial, but it is usually used to push back hoppers for storage. A siding near by is used for MOW equipment but could easily be adapted for turnaround service.

  4. Some may judge the following information irrelevant….from the 24 Sept. 1950 Milwaukee Rd. timetable p.12, service Chicago- Milw.-MSP. #57 9 PM, mail and express, no passengers. #1 11:15 PM, Pioneer Limited. #17 10:00 PM, Columbian. #15 3:30 PM, Olympian Hiawatha. #101 1:00 PM, Afternoon Hiawatha. #5 10:30 AM, Morning Hiawatha. #55 1:30 AM. Total of 7 trains, none of which stopped at Glenview. Chicago-Milwaukee service had 13 trains, most non-stop, some “75 Minute Train”(sic).

  5. I would only comment that the arguably most successful large railroad in North America right now is BNSF. As Mr. Buffet recently remarked to Berkshire shareholders, “you can be proud of your railroad”. One of those reasons is the 150-year-old legacy of something called the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. Santa Fe’s legacy is that it never tore up the second main line anywhere and is now making extraordinary levels of investment to fix the remaining freight route legacy bottlenecks. With apologies to our friends in Western Kansas, from a practical matter the Southern Transcon is simply an inherently better freight route than Raton Pass.

  6. Someone with more knowledge can elaborate but recall that the FRA grant is one piece of the funding puzzle with railroads and states throwing in respective dollars as well. To me that makes a lot of sense as our infrastructure of all modes in one way or another are subsidize but having local and private skin in the game from all stakeholders leads to much better returns in my opinion.

    Also, the Twin Cities corridor is a stark contrast on NS request in Pennsylvania and what CXS is demanding for resumption of gulf coast service to Mobile.

  7. I wonder how the NIMBYs in Glenview, IL will react to this?

    (Actually, that was a rhetorical question; we all KNOW how they will respond. The real question is will their all-too-predictable response prevent this new train from going between Chicago and Milwaukee?)

    1. The nimby’s in Glenview were opposed to idling engines on a siding waiting for traffic to clear, not to increased volumes per se.

  8. When we did the single tracking in the late 80’s, we had a choice. There was enough money to replace one track with CWR and long sidings and CTC or keep both (mostly jointed rail) and do small parts with the new rail and keep the ABS. The jointed rail in the mains were in pretty rough shape and there wasn’t a lot of CWR in either main between St Paul and Chicago. We had to keep both mains east of Milwaukee because of the density of freight and passenger.

    How would you have spent the limited dollars?

    1. Hello Steve! Nice to see some direct perspective. I entered the industry after the darkest days, but close enough to those days to understand there was a time when MOW had to make tough decisions with the limited (or non-existent) funds they had. I am still find myself a little bit in awe about the shear amount of capital that flows into MOW compared to even 25 years ago. Memories are short and rail infrastructure lasts a long time, so people tend to forget about how tired much of the physical plant was then.

    2. I rode the Builder in the late eighties. It was the roughest track i rode in a 6 month trip , covering most major routes. You could literally feel every joint.

    3. I remember at the time when the Soo got the Milwaukee, the track got so bad that Amtrak was close to rerouting the Builder on the BN from Chicago to St Paul. Amtrak even ran a test train. Wisconsin was indifferent to rail passenger service at the time and the possibility of the Builder permanent reroute on BN got Wisconsin interested in rail passenger service.

  9. One must see how it benefits CP, they are getting a second main in 2 locations, fully signalled. The article didn’t cover it, but the WisDOT site did.

    – La Crosse Yard and Depot Area Improvements (La Crosse, WI) – Rebuild second mainline track, extend yard lead to the west, and reconstruct passenger platform

    – Mississippi River Bridge (La Crescent, MN) – Realign track approaches, replace switches and trackwork

    – River Junction Yard Improvements (La Crescent, MN) – Conversion of yard track to signalized 2nd main track, including signal improvements, new mainline track, turnouts, and connection track, and an upgrade to existing yard track.

    – Winona Siding Improvements (Winona, MN) – Upgrade siding track, switches, and signals.

    – Tower CK (Winona, MN) – Construct new siding track connecting main track to CPR Waseca subdivision, and add switches and signals.

    – Amtrak Midway Station Turnaround Facility Improvements (St. Paul, MN) – Interior improvements to Amtrak facility for light maintenance and turnaround for TCMC trains

  10. I live in Wisconsin but it seems we’ve been annexed by Pennsylvania. Canadian Pacific runnig those three mile long container ships on a single-track railroad (west of Pewaukee, Waukesha County). Hey folks, guess how many tracks there used to be?????

    1. I would say hindsight is 20/20. It is easy to complain about ripping out tracks 40 to 50 years ago, but the reality facing those railroaders is far different than what is faced today. Having lived through the period yourself, I am sure you recognize this Charles.

    2. OK, no argument, maybe MILW had reasons to go single track. If Canadian Pacific now needs the capacity MILW once had, Canadian Pacific can pay for it.

You must login to submit a comment