September 21, 2022 – For those of you not on WisDOT’s e-mailing list for updates, the information below was blasted out on September 19. We’re all waiting for more information on exact dates and locations.
The Design Phase of the Twin Cities – Milwaukee – Chicago Rail (TCMC) Project has Begun!
We wanted to give you a heads up for the upcoming public involvement meetings that will be scheduled in late October or early November so you can view the design plans and offer input for the Twin Cities – Milwaukee – Chicago (TCMC) project. The project will add a second, daily round-trip passenger rail service to the 411-mile corridor used by Amtrak’s long-distance Empire Builder route between Milwaukee and Saint Paul.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT), in coordination with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), has initiated the final design phase of the Twin Cities – Milwaukee – Chicago (TCMC) project.
The design phase will include the development of detailed plans for the improvement areas and will provide opportunities for local governments, agencies, stakeholders, and the public to provide input on those plans. This final design phase is expected to be complete in Summer 2023 with construction running from late 2023 into 2025. The additional train service is expected to start in 2024, or earlier.
The design phase follows a robust planning and environmental study that determined improvements to rail infrastructure so the corridor can handle freight and increased passenger traffic. The project has secured $53 million in federal, state, and Amtrak funding to allow the design and construction of tracks, signals, and railroad crossing improvements in La Crosse, Wis., La Crescent, Minn., and Winona, Minn. The existing stops and train platforms along the corridor will be used for the TCMC service.
Public Involvement Meetings showing the design plans will be held in late October or early November 2022. A second virtual public meeting is expected in 2023 prior to construction. In addition to public meetings, the project team will conduct meetings with stakeholders, local officials, and property owners as needed throughout the design phase. Meeting invitations will be emailed as well as periodic project updates.
For additional information about the TCMC Project please visit the WisDOT and MnDOT project webpages.
To provide comments about the TCMC Project please use this comment form.
September 11, 2022 – The August version of the TCMC Newsletter is out. This newsletter’s original creation was intended as a companion for the Great River Rail Commission trip between St. Paul and Milwaukee. You can read more about this trip in the September issue of Badger Rails.
There are two files you can download: One is the full text for the newsletter. Due to size limitations not all of this text was included in the V4N5b newsletter. The second file is the actual V4N5b newsletter. Hard copies are available in the train stations in southeastern Wisconsin and will be in all stations by the end of the month.
June 5, 2022 – The latest information I have is in the May 27 issue of TCMC Newsletter. Available as a download, check out the newsletter itself featuring photos from Alan Baker of the new Siemens ALC-42 leading the Empire Builder through Wisconsin. The complete unedited copy is also available for download.
featured stories include mid-February 2022 TCMC Update and the 2021 On-Time charts for the Empire Builder for Wisconsin.
February 25, 2022 – The latest TCMC Newsletter is posted. Also posted is the On-Time monthly data for the Westbound Empire Builder train number 7 for 2021. You can download as a PDF file the newsletter in addition to the monthly On-Time data. When reviewing the monthly data for #7, check out how many times the train was early into St. Paul, and by how many minutes.
March 2, 2022 UPDATE – The Eastbound #8 Empire Builder On-Time has been added.
July 16, 2021 – Nice name! And how appropriate. The name actually comes from a May 6, 2021 U.S. House of Representatives hearing staged by the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials. This hearing was over two months ago, but much of the discussion will have legs for the next year or three. The impact on Wisconsin Passenger Rail is yet to be seen. You can go to YouTube and watch the entire hearing… all 4 hours and 45 minutes of it. ZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…………. Or you can catch some of my edits below.
The YouTube link above is for segment five. (I know I’m going backwards.) Here are some notes I made over what I thought was important discussion: About 49 minutes CA rep Doug LaMalfa’s monologue. About 39 minutes AR rep Bruce Westerman’s questions about cost per mile. About 26 minutes WA rep Marilyn Strickland questions/ exchange over HSR. About 16:15 minutes MA rep Seth Moultan questions/ exchange over the speed of HSR with Flynn of Amtrak. A very interesting exchange, and one that shows how really splintered the information conveyed by the supporters of HSR can be. (Research this topic yourself on Wikipedia.)
By the way, each of these segments I have edited in questions from lawmakers from their five minute sessions, as opposed to watching the Q&A segments and getting scattered occurrences of questions and answers.
Segment two is Judge Trey Duhon from Waller County Texas, a well-spoken, well prepared testimony against Texas Central. Any of you that are strong advocates of HSR should watch this and learn about the headwinds that are naturally going to happen with any NEW HSR project. Even Mr. High Speed Rail Seth Moulton appeared effected by his testimony.
Segment four video is Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar. I thought this would be a little more spicy coming off of Judge Duhon’s testimony. But I was wrong.
Segment three is John Porcari, former Deputy Secretary of Transportation under President Obama. He’s currently the Secretary of Transportation for the State of Maryland. No question this gent received the most questions from lawmakers. Considering his current status in transportation, this surprised me. I think he answered questions in a rather level-headed manner. There’s no outrageous marketing-type answers here.
Segment one is the opening statements from the two transportation chairs: Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr. from New Jersey and Rep. Peter DeFazio from Oregon. There is plenty of sizzle here, particularly if you watch segments two, three and five. Enjoy!
The Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers (WisARP) is holding its Spring Meeting 2021 via Zoom on Saturday, March 27th, 2021 9:00am to Noon Central Time.
Click on the Link below to register. There is no fee for this meeting
Arun Rao, Passenger Rail specialist at WisDOT, is scheduled to speak. Other speakers are being finalized. The meeting will focus on the second train Chicago – Milwaukee – St. Paul, and restoration of Hiawatha and Empire Builder service post Covid.
January 24, 2021 – The January 21, 2021 issue of TCMC Newsletter contains the On-Time Performance charts for the Empire Builder in 2020.
Under review is: Westbound #7 – On-Time performance for arrival at St. Paul, MN. This would be an identical trek for the TCMC regional train when it hits the rail.
Eastbound #8 – On-Time performance is based on Columbus, WI. Prior to this chart, if you saw posted information about #8 it was almost always for Chicago.
New this year is a PDF file showing the daily log for every Amtrak train. Also new this year is a video that goes along with the Newsletter and PDF files. Hopefully this answers many questions about this project. Links for the files are below as is a link that will take you to the WisARP YouTube Channel to see the video that’s a bit more than 10 minutes.
September 30, 2020 – Reports are our legislators in Washington D.C. are working together to fund another stimulus bill. Any help for Amtrak that can be funded would be welcome.
The current news about the Empire Builder is the current date for downgrading service to three times per week is Monday, October 19. This service cut will happen even if congress acts to supply funding for Amtrak. Any new funding congress enacts for Amtrak needs to have the requirement that Long Distance service needs to remain daily.
The latest TCMC Newsletter is at the bottom of this blog. It’s almost entirely dedicated toto Empire Builder news. For the absolute latest information regarding Amtrak Long Distance service including the Empire Builder, WisARP suggests checking with Trains Magazine Newswire and RailPassengers.org. Also included below is another sample letter you can use to contact our U.S. Senators Baldwin and Johnson. Calling them and leaving a short message is strongly suggested, but writing a message would also be helpful.
September 11, 2020 – Lombard, IL. The following is a memo issued today from MIPRC regarding the potential for the Amtrak Empire Builder and other Long Distance trains being reduced to three trains per week in October. Please check other posts regarding contact information for Senators Baldwin and Johnson.
Dear MIPRC allies,
MIPRC today sent the email below to all Midwestern Members of Congress (and their transportation staff), urging them to support Amtrak’s request for $4.9 billion for FY 2021. If this request is met, Amtrak has promised not to cut long-distance service to 3/x week on most routes, nor furlough employees, on Oct. 1.
We strongly encourage you to reach out to your Members of Congress (both House and Senate) to reiterate this critically-important request.
Laura Kliewer, Director – Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission
From: Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission Sent: Friday, September 11, 2020 12:01 PM Subject: Funding for Amtrak needed this month in order to avoid cutting long-distance service and furloughing employees!
To: Midwestern Members of Congress Fr: Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission
Date: September 11, 2020
Re: Funding for Amtrak needed this month in order to avoid cutting long-distance service and furloughing employees!
The Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission (MIPRC) is a compact among Midwestern states to promote, coordinate and support passenger rail development in our region. We write today to urgently ask for your support of additional funding to maintain Amtrak’s national network of long-distance trains at its current level of service.
As you may be aware, effective October 1 Amtrak plans to reduce service on these trains from daily to three times per week until ridership recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. On Sept. 1, Amtrak said it will also furlough 1,950 employees, 698 of whom are on-board staff for long-distance trains.
While we don’t dispute the drastic losses in ridership caused by the pandemic, daily Amtrak service is essential for many Midwesterners, especially those who live in rural areas. We are concerned that this service cut would strand thousands of riders in smaller cities and communities who have no other form of intercity or interstate transportation. It would also adversely affect the already tenuous economic vitality of dozens of rural communities that are station stops for Amtrak and benefit greatly from the impact of that status. And while Amtrak states its benchmarks for restoring service will be examined as early as the first quarter of calendar year 2021, we are concerned this cut is one from which long-distance service may never recover.
In a recent analysis, the Rail Passengers Association noted that the National Network (long-distance trains) have provided Amtrak more ridership revenue than the Northeast Corridor or the state-supported services since the pandemic period began in March. Among its findings:
· During the pandemic period since March, the National Network’s routes have contributed 45% of Amtrak’s revenues, compared with 21% a year ago during those same five months.
· Since March, Northeast Corridor and state-supported corridor service revenues are down 90% compared with a 64% decline for the National Network.
· In all of calendar 2020, NEC ridership is down 66%, and during the pandemic period ridership is down 88%. By contrast, the National Network’s ridership is only down 53% in 2020, and 68% during the pandemic period.
We should note that revenue and ridership numbers for Amtrak’s state-supported services have tracked very closely those for the Northeast Corridor. But unlike the NEC and the long-distance network, the states – not Amtrak – will decide when to increase, or reinstate, more frequent services on those routes.
As Senators Bennett, Braun, Cramer, Danes, Heinrich, Hoeven and Udall noted in their June 24 letter to Amtrak president and CEO William Flynn: “Amtrak’s plan to terminate one out of every five employees would put thousands of Americans out of work at a time when millions of Americans have lost their jobs. This severe reduction in workforce raises serious doubts about whether a realistic plan exists for fully restoring service in a timely fashion. Your plan also calls for reducing the frequency of all National Network long distance trains, while consolidating three routes into one, thus greatly reducing Amtrak’s ability to operate its Network at full capacity. These actions will eliminate thousands of points of connection and dramatically reduce the utility of Amtrak as a transportation provider, irrevocably hurting hundreds of communities and small towns already devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
We appreciate and are thankful that Congress has already provided Amtrak with $1 billion in emergency funding through the CARES Act. But, as we noted in our June 29 letter to Congress regarding the TRAIN Act within H.R. 2: “Amtrak has informed MIPRC that in order not to make planned cuts to long distance service starting on Oct. 1, it would need to receive $4 billion in federal funding … for FY 2021.”
During the House Transportation and Infrastructure rail subcommittee’s Sept. 9 hearing on Amtrak’s response to COVID-19, Amtrak CEO William Flynn said that after further analysis, and with ridership still down 80 percent from pre-pandemic levels, Amtrak has updated that figure to $4.9 billion.
Therefore, we now ask that Amtrak be authorized and funded at $4.9 billion for FY 2021before Sept. 30. We also request that this additional funding which Amtrak says it needs in FY 2021 to maintain daily service on the National Network come with a Congressional directive that it must be used to maintain long-distance service and the related employment of workers at FY 2020 levels.
August 26, 2020 – During the second week of July I had a chance to visit Wisconsin. With my camcorder along I video captured the Empire Builder twice and the Hiawatha once. From outward appearances these trains appear fine. But inside, I’m sure it was much emptier than normal. Enjoy.
EMPIRE BUILDER UPDATE with SAMPLE LETTER TO USE WRITING SENATORS BALDWIN & JOHNSON
August 25, 2020 – The date etched in the sand is October 1, 2020. This is the date the Empire Builder will begin running three days per week.
In an attempt to encourage Congress to maintain the daily travel of Amtrak passenger trains on the Long Distance network, many passenger rail users are writing their elected officials in the Senate. They have the next move on a transportation funding bill to help the country get through the effects of the COVID pandemic.
WisARP is encouraging its members to do the same. You can download a sample letter to use when writing both Senators, or create your own letter with a personal story to convey. Please do this soon.
For the latest news on the Empire Builder including updates on the legislative actions being taken, WisARP is suggesting using the NewsWire from Trains Magazine.
April 27, 2020 – The WisARP General Meeting scheduled Saturday, March 28 in LaCrosse was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns. But Passenger Rail issues continue to progress in the State of Wisconsin.
Wisconsin Department of Transportation Passenger Rail Manager Arun Rao spent some time with me earlier this month discussing the updates WisDOT has been working on since our last meeting in October 2019. It has been recorded in a video format. It is available on the WisARP YouTube Channel.
The WisARP Spring Meeting in LaCrosse on Saturday March 28th 2020 is cancelled due to the Corona Virus. Besides the logical reasons to stay safe, our venue has fallen under the quarantine rules. Those who registered will be refunded.
The board will be posting content here with hopes to make up for the lack of said meeting. Plans are being made for our Fall meeting.
On March 11, 2020 Amtrak sent out an e-mail to all customers with registered e-mail accounts about its current safety measures regarding COVID-19, the Coronavirus. If you did not receive this e-mail, the message contained is below.
YOUR SAFETY IS OUR TOP PRIORITY
The safety of our customers and employees is Amtrak’s top priority. We are closely monitoring the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and are taking action based on guidance from public health experts. In order to maintain a safe environment and address customer concerns, we are taking measures including:
Enhanced cleaning protocols. We have increased the frequency of cleaning service on our trains and at our stations.
Additional antibacterial products. We have increased the quantity of sanitizers and disinfectant wipes available for customers and employees throughout our trains and stations.
No change fees on bookings made through April 30, 2020. We are waiving change fees so you can book travel on Amtrak® with confidence, knowing you have the flexibility to change your plans.
We have temporarily suspended three trains that operate between New York and Washington (Trains 2401, 2402, 2403) due to lower demand and additional changes to our schedule are under consideration. Amtrak continues to operate 300 daily trains, including more than 100 daily trains on the Northeast Corridor and continues to serve all of our stations. If schedules are modified for any existing reservation, we will contact you to provide an update.
We will continue to respond to the latest on COVID‑19 with customer and employee safety top of mind. Please visit this page for further information on our efforts, which we will continually update. For additional information about the Coronavirus, visit the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) website . As always, we will strive to create a safe and enjoyable experience for your Amtrak journey. Thank you for being an Amtrak customer.
January 28, 2020 – To complete my 2019 project of reporting on-time Empire Builder trains, here is my first installment.
Refreshing my parameters for the chart and footnotes: This chart uses Columbus, WI. as a point of reference for on-time, not Chicago. I use Amtrak’s protocol for this train: It can be up to 30 minutes late and would still be considered on-time. The data used for my chart comes from < Juckins.net >. Juckins is not an official Amtrak website, and my chart is not an official Amtrak on-time document. I am solely responsible for the analysis of this data.
Updating the November blog- chart, #8 was on-time 65 percent of the time in December 2019. It averaged 48 minutes late for the month. Compared to some of the data earlier in the year, this is a considerable improvement. But I note the Empire Builder had better than average performance last winter until the weather turned what I’ll call Winter-Ugly at the end of January 2019. Summertime when Amtrak consistently has its highest ridership, the performance of the Empire Builder was at its poorest performance.
For fiscal year 2019 Amtrak still registered a one percent rise in ridership on the Empire Builder. The passenger numbers for the five stops west of Milwaukee for the Empire Builder were up two percent for FY2019. All of these positive numbers came from a train that was on-time only 38 percent for the calendar year. Imagine what the ridership numbers might be if the EB could be on-time 50 to 65 percent all year?
For those of you that attended the WisARP Membership meeting in Madison on Saturday, October 26, you saw my presentation debuted an On-Time chart for the Empire Builder #7 westbound. This chart was created to demonstrate expectations for the TCMC train running just between Chicago and St. Paul (MSP).
The Empire Builder #8 eastbound has its own issues with scheduling, which easily distracts us trying to gauge the 400 miles between St. Paul (MSP) and Chicago. The #7 chart should more clearly demonstrate how well Canadian Pacific is likely to take care of the TCMC train. CP with Metra would be the dispatchers for the TCMC train.
For the month of November 2019, the Empire Builder #7 running to St. Paul had another very good month. A route of over 400 miles with 83 percent of the trains on time, and an average of just 10 minutes late. Very Nice!! Use the link above to see the full chart for 2019.