The Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Minnesota Department of Transportation announced this week that $31.8 million in federal funding has been approved to add a second daily Amtrak round-trip train service between Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul, Minnesota.
The Milwaukee to the Twin Cities corridor is currently only served by the nation-straddling Empire Builder, that passes through just once a day as it makes its trek out to Seattle and back.
That train leaves Milwaukee at 3:52 p.m. daily and arrives at St. Paul’s Union Station at 10:03 p.m. Travelers heading to Milwaukee from St. Paul, likewise, have one daily train to choose from. It leaves St. Paul’s Union Station at 8 a.m., arriving at the Intermodal Station in downtown Milwaukee at 2:07 p.m.
Expected to be online by early 2024, the “Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago Intercity Passenger Rail Service” or (TCMC) line will solely travel between Chicago and St. Paul., providing passengers with the option of catching a 12 p.m. train to St. Paul.
In addition to doubling the service between the communities, the new service should allow for more passenger capacity and better, more on-time departures and arrivals. That’s because passengers on the regional TCMS route, won’t have to deal with the prospect of train delay out west – say in Spokane or Fargo – messing with their plans.
Help for rural passengers, grade crossings
The additional service should also come as good news to residents in smaller cities along the route, like Tomah, the Wisconsin Dells, or La Crosse, which have few inter-city transit options, said Arun Roa Passenger Rail Implementation Manager at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
The first year of service is projected to serve more than 124,000 riders, according to WisDOT.
“While we cannot announce a TCMC start date – yet – know all of us working together can make this happen in months instead of years,” Amtrak president and CEO Stephen Gardner said in a press release this week.
The federal funding is expected to help ramp up the project, which officials had initially expected to be completed in late 2024.
The money will fund rail improvements, modernizing sections of track and speed the movement of freight. Grade crossing improvements are also expected to reduce “gate-down times,” aka train delays.
“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,” WisDOT Secretary Craig Thompson said in a press release.
As transportation officials begin planning the improvements that will result in TCMC service, passengers who rely on Amtrak’s popular Hiawatha service between Milwaukee and Chicago can expect to get back the option of taking earlier and later trips in and out of the cities.
The Milwaukee-Chicago service lost two trains per day in January when Amtrak was forced to reduce service due to the Omicron surge. Those trips – a 6:15 a.m. from Milwaukee that typically ran on weekdays and Saturdays, a daily 7:35 p.m. from Milwaukee, and an 11:25 p.m. train from Chicago – are slated to be added back to the schedule on March 28.
The returning service will result in an average of seven trips in between the two cities on most days. More information on the Hiawatha service can be found here.