Another Train in the Works for Minnesota Tax Dollars?

Amtrak Station St. Paul - Photo by Magnus Manske [CC-BY-SA 2.0]
Amtrak Station St. Paul - Photo by Magnus Manske [CC-BY-SA 2.0]

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota State legislature is reportedly considering supplying funding for the construction of a second rail line from the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area down to Chicago.

Amtrak already has an existing line connecting Chicago all the way to the west coast with destinations in Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon. The Chicago to Minneapolis-St. Paul portion of the Empire Builder line includes one stop in Illinois, six stops in Wisconsin, and a stop each in Red Wing and Winona, Minnesota.

In total the trip is supposed to take just under eight hours either way, according to Amtrak’s April timetable for the line. At 418 miles in duration that means it averages just 52 miles an hour, whereas a drive can be made up to two hours quicker, and at a lower cost. A single one-way ticket can be over $100 depending on the date and availability.

As such, an additional line may not make the most sense. However, the Pioneer Press reports that the state legislature is considering a new route, including $1 million in funding for the second phase of a feasibility and use study for the project.

That news took some by surprise, including State Rep. Mary Franson (R-Alexandria) who responded simply “We are?” on Twitter.

The new line would have stops in Red Wing and Winona, which there already are on the Empire Builder line. The Pioneer Press reports that the line would have a maximum speed of 79 miles an hour.

With stops already planned for Red Wing and Winona, it is quite possible the train would merely follow the same route as the existing Amtrak line. Nine stops along the way would cut the average speed of the train considerably. With the speed limit on I-94 through Wisconsin at 70 miles an hour, and gas still relatively inexpensive, travelers are likely to continue to find driving a more efficient and cost effective experience.

Anders Koskinen