When living in a river town like Red Wing, it's hard to ignore the prominence of the Mississippi River and the train that runs alongside it. These two landmarks could soon be changing.
The Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago train, or Second Train, was proposed as a daily round-trip passenger train alongside the Twin Cities to Chicago route. This addition would complement the existing Amtrak Empire Builder by being built alongside it.
The project does not correlate with the Zip Rail efforts, a proposed train down the Highway 52 corridor.
During the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission meeting in Red Wing on Sept. 7, commissioners went over the status of the river route project and how it has gained momentum.
"We had a comment last night from an elderly couple ... this is how they want to travel in their retirement years. We did a survey of students in Winona last year and the students want to ride this," said Dan Krom, director of passenger rail office for Minnesota Department of Transportation. "It's not just a certain group that are interested, there's a wide range of people that use it."
Goodhue County commissioners discussed during their board meeting Tuesday, Sept. 5, increasing taxes to pay for a transportation funding gap from the state. This increase in taxes would not affect the TCMC Second Train. Funds would only be used for road construction programs, commissioners stressed.
The TCMC timeline outlines public involvement throughout all phases. Currently, the project is in the Phase 1 study, listing public meetings as the focus for this month, with cost estimates for October and recommended infrastructure improvements for November. Phase 1 will conclude Dec. 31.
Looking ahead, the Phase 2 study will start in 2018 with the final design and construction and operation potentially starting in 2022.
Why a second train?
Based on the 2015 feasibility report, TCMC would have an annual ridership of 155,500 passengers and bring in $6.8 million in revenue. The train is expected to run at a maximum service of 79 mph.
Four major needs for the rail were highlighted during the local meeting:
• TCMC would serve as a substitute for insufficient no-auto transportation option for communities.
• Rising population, economic growth creates more travel delays and insufficient schedule choices for intercity travelers.
• The current Empire Builder, the Amtrak service from Seattle to Chicago, is near capacity during peak travel months and travel demand is expected to rise.
Ultimately, the second train would provide the option for riders to use it at a time that is more convenient for them. The southbound Empire Builder is scheduled to depart Red Wing at 8:54 a.m. while the northbound is at 8:49 p.m.
"I think it's important to stress, you really improve the utility of your existing infrastructure, of your existing assets by providing people with additional departure options," said Derrick James, Amtrak senior manager of government affairs. "For the travel consumer, when they are making a decision on mode choice, it's which one is most convenient for them. What we have found, when you start to add multiple trains (and) schedules we start to give people the option to take the train that leaves at the time they do."
Regardless of how fast the train can go, James reinforced, what will help push this project forward is how convenient a new schedule would be.
For more information on TCMC Second Train project, visit dot.state.mn.us/passengerrail/tc-mil-chi/.