24.9.18

A SECOND TRAIN TO THE CITIES, IN MY LIFETIME?

The policy types have been thinking about it for some time.
In the early days of Amtrak, travelers in the Chicago - Twin Cities corridor had a choice of two trains a day each way.  That was a step backwards from the frequencies offered as late as 1968, but plenitude compared to today's schedule, in which one additional coach east of the Cities riding on the Empire Builder is the only recognition of the corridor.  Despite the political turmoil in Illinois and Wisconsin and the tight budgets everywhere, improvements to the service might be forthcoming.
It's going to be about coming up with the money, though.
A second train would operate four to six hours later than the eastbound Empire Builder, which currently is scheduled to leave St. Paul at 8 a.m., and earlier by a similar amount than the westbound Builder, slated for a 10:03 p.m. arrival. Current estimates for the service range from $137 to $169 million.

A previous Amtrak study found 155,000 passengers would take advantage of the expanded service, and recommended the proposal proceed with an environmental review and public outreach efforts that would make the project eligible for federal funding. Advocates must now find funding for that next step.

“The bottom line is local government has been carrying the water for the last couple of years on this issue,” Rafael Ortega, Regional Railroad Authority chairman, said, according to the newspaper. “We need to push this at the state legislature.”
That works out to about 225 passengers on each train, or three Horizon coaches and a business class car apart from peak season. The skeptics are likely to be out in force.  It doesn't help any that the "corridor" relies on an overpurposed Empire Builder subject to delay.
The Empire Builder, which chugs east across Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and western Minnesota, is supposed to leave St. Paul for the Windy City daily at 8 a.m. But the trains share track with freight rail operators in an arrangement that can cause delays.

“It doesn’t always leave at 8 a.m.,” said Frank Loetterle, project manager for MnDOT’s Passenger Rail Office, while addressing the Ramsey board. “The challenge with the eastbound Empire Builder service is that it has traveled hundreds of miles, so it’s not as reliable as it could be.”

The objective is “to have a train leaving St. Paul on time most of the time,” Loetterle added.
That's not much of an objective.  I suppose I'm asking too much even for journalists not to describe trains as "chugging" let alone a serious corridor service extending from Chicago as far as Fargo or Grand Forks with multiple frequencies between the Cities and Chicago.

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