Spring 2016 Membership Meeting – Saturday, May 21

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Spring 2016 Membership Meeting – You are Invited!  

www.allaboardmn.org

Spring membership meeting of All Aboard Minnesota will be held
on Saturday, May 21, and… YOU are invited!

The meeting will be held at Christ the King Lutheran Church, located on 8600 Freemont Ave, South in Bloomington,  MN.  Doors will be open at 10:00am.  The meeting will begin at 10:30 am and will conclude at 12:00noon.  Light refreshments will be provided in the morning.

For directions, please click on this
link:  http://www.ctkb.org/contact-us/

This meeting is free and open to all members! 

We have an exciting agenda planned: 

Update on our meetings and our learnings from the 2016 MN legislative session
What is happening with rail passenger legislation
Update on the MnDot State Rail Passenger office
Meetings we’ve had around the region with Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers, Prorail, and others
How you can help our cause

There is no need to RSVP, but if you have questions in the meantime please contact us at:
allaboardminnesota@gmail.com;

We look forward to seeing you there!

Stop by Train Days April 30-May 1 2016

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Stop by Train Days April 30-May 1  2016

www.allaboardmn.org

All Aboard Minnesota will be exhibiting at St. Paul Union Depot Train Days!  All members are invited to stop in and visit with AAMN Board members at this special two-day event being held on Saturday and Sunday, April 30-May 1.  Timing of the event is 10:00am to 4:00pm on Saturday April 30, and 11:00am to 3:00pm Sunday May 1.

The Depot is putting together an extravaganza celebrating train travel…an event that will feature an Amtrak exhibition train!  Also on display down on the depot tracks will be Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 #261, a Soo Line FP7, and other historic equipment.  Up in the main room, there will be art, speakers, vendors, operating model layouts, and of course… groups like us that will all be there in support of more and better train service in Minnesota.  Admission is free.

For more information, visit:  http://www.uniondepot.org/traindays/

Spread the word and encourage your friends and family to come.  We hope to see you there!

BNSF Update

We have created this page to give you an idea of the massive construction effort BNSF is taking in North Dakota to expand capacity along the Hi Line.  The following trip report will give you indication of what is happening.  This construction will ultimately alleviate, we hope, the persistent timekeeping problems with the Empire Builder and provide better freight service.

Spring 2015 Construction Update:

The BNSF 2015 construction season has begun. 6 billion dollars are being spent to upgrade and add capacity all over the railroad.  Several of these projects will benefit the Empire Builder.  Within Minneapolis itself the BNSF is adding a second main from Minneapolis junction (where the line to Willmar connects) through Union Yard to St Anthony tower (where Amtrak turns off the BNSF and onto the Minnesota Commercial).  This will help keep Amtrak and certain freight trains from interfering with work at the BNSF Midway Hub Center.

Here is a photo looking East from the 15th street pedestrian bridge in Minneapolis.  You can see where the sub grade has been exposed in order to lay the new track.

https://flic.kr/p/s7GGT9 

And a view looking west from the same foot bridge.

https://flic.kr/p/spfBAM

All Aboard Minnesota goes to North Dakota to see why Amtrak is running so late

In late September 2014 your President, Brian Nelson and Treasurer, Bob Moen, went to North Dakota to see firsthand why the Empire Builder is running so late and what can be done about it. What we found was an army of men, bulldozers and equipment stretching across the state. BNSF started rebuilding and re-signaling the line from Fargo-Grand Forks-Minot last year. They expect to have that work done by freeze-up on December 1st. What the Empire Builder will have is a new railroad capable of 79 mph with modern signals, CTC sidings and crossovers. The line across the lake at Churches Ferry has been raised with a new bridge. This line will serve as the second mainline between Fargo and Minot complementing the traditional mainline via New Rockford. That line will also see upgrades and more sidings next year. BNSF is implementing directional running where all the trains on one route will run west and all on the other route will run east. Only Amtrak and a few freight trains will run in both directions on the Grand Forks line once the work is done.

The main work this year was west of Minot where BNSF has been building a second track to Williston on what had historically been a single track railroad most of the way.  They have been bulldozing hills, filling in valleys and pushing dirt out into small lakes to build a second track. There are many stretches of the 120-mile route where track is in and operational for 6-7 mile sections. We found a significant portion has been fully graded, shaped and tamped into a roadbed awaiting ties, ballast and rail. It appears that BNSF crews have been trying to grade and shape as many miles as possible before freeze-up and are planning to lay rail, ties and ballast in the winter months when it is impossible to grade dirt. If this winter is severe, this work may have to wait for next spring. As of late September crews were filling in a large valley east of Epping and only a mile or so from the existing double track into Williston, ND. They expect to have 55 miles of double track completed by the end of the year on this segment. This is the biggest amount railroad construction in North Dakota since James J. Hill built the Great Northern in the 1890’s and the Milwaukee Road built across the southern section of the state in 1907.

We came away with the clear picture that BNSF is doing everything physically possible to get the congested railroad in North Dakota unclogged as quickly as possible. The problem the Empire Builder is facing, is the same one all shippers of grain and oil are facing. There is simply too much traffic and too many trains for the railroad to handle. The line is handling almost twice as much traffic as it handled ten years ago and probably 8 times as much as in the Great Northern days of the 1960’s when more passenger trains operated over the route. The fact is that the “pipe” is only so big and only so much can be pushed through it. No amount screaming, investigations or pressure from government entities is going to change that physical fact. Only adding another pipe (track) can fix the problem, which is exactly what BNSF is doing as fast as possible. We are as frustrated as anyone at the terrible on time performance of the Empire Builder, but we do not see any way this can be changed until these improvements are implemented. The day we were there, we observed over a dozen freight trains between Minot and Williston trying to pass each other going opposite directions on single track. Then we watched BNSF move all the freight trains out of the way for Amtrak. As soon as the Empire Builder had passed, the freight train traffic jam resumed.

Next year BNSF plans to finish North Dakota and concentrate on the line from Fargo to Minneapolis to add capacity there. We will keep up the pressure in Washington and St. Paul, but until the track work is done, we do not expect the Empire Builder to return to its traditional on time performance.

Here are some new pictures of the construction:

Here is a slightly tardy westbound Empire Builder at Berthold ND just some 23 miles west of Minot. Here you can see what looks like a road next to the tracks. That is actually the sub grade for the new second main. Note also the new welded rail sticks on the ballast next to the active mainline. While Berthold already had a siding it was left unaltered to become just a feeder track for the oil loading facility there. A completely new second main track is being laid rather than simply extending the Berthold siding to the next location.

In another view at Ross which is 61 miles west of Minot we see a BNSF local in the distance stepping through the construction zone.  Note the new signals in the distance which will control a crossover point there. A crossover is just a group of switches that allow a train to move from one main track to the other. Note also the wide right of way and fresh rail laying on the new sub grade waiting for the track laying machine. As of February 2015 the second main is in place and active up to that ‘future’ crossover point in the distance.

Here are some other pictures:

BNSF Cons Sept 14BNSF Cons Sept 14 MG_2507 (1)

BNSF Cons Sept 14 IMG_2508BNSF Cons Sept 14 3 IMG_2499 (1)BNSF Cons Sept 14 2

Two Passenger Trains to Chicago and Back are a Real Possibility

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Two Passenger Trains to Chicago and Back are a Real Possibility

St. Paul, Minnesota (April, 18, 2016 ) – Travelers between the Twin Cities and Chicago who are tired of the frustrations of flying and the hassles of driving (or taking a bus) have, for years, had the choice of just one Amtrak passenger train–, the “Empire Builder” —  which leaves St. Paul for Chicago in the early morning hours and returns from Chicago in the late evening.

Now there is a real possibility of a second daily train leaving St. Paul’s Union Depot before noon and returning from Chicago at around the dinner hour…much more convenient for many more travelers between these two major metropolitan areas.  The Departments of Transportation in both Minnesota and Wisconsin have agreed to study how to set up this new service.

Unlike the Empire Builder, which originates eastbound in Seattle, the new train would run exclusively between the Twin Cities, Milwaukee and Chicago on the same route used by Amtrak’s current train.  This should greatly increase the on-time reliability of the daily service.

Amtrak and MnDOT recently released studies that found this service to be economically viable.  The preliminary study estimates that approximately 155,000 additional riders would be drawn to the service in its early years… reducing congestion on parallel I-94 and giving people a lower-cost alternative to flying.
In addition, this new additional service is expected to create substantial new economic growth and increased tourism all along its route that could offset its modest annual operating cost.

“Most people don’t realize it, but Amtrak has realized record passenger growth during the past three years, hauling over 30 million passengers each year,” said Brian Nelson, President of All Aboard Minnesota, a citizen advocacy group promoting increased train travel options in Minnesota.  “People all over the country are proving with their wallets that they want more trains.”

“The state of Minnesota is underserved by Amtrak,” he said, “with the Empire Builder operating through the state in the middle of the night between Chicago and the Pacific northwest.  Other states which have invested in more and better train service, such as Illinois, Michigan, Oregon, Maine, North Carolina, California and others, have all seen tremendous ridership growth.  It only makes sense that fast, comfortable, modern trains should be a part of a truly balanced transportation system,” he added.

And of course, there is the issue of energy efficiency and environmental impact.  Trains are 30% more energy-efficient than cars, 20% more efficient than airplanes, resulting in less air pollution, less highway congestion, and less reliance on expensive regional air services.

Nelson also observed that trains are a uniquely satisfying way to travel.  Modern coaches are quiet and comfortable, offering large seats that fully recline, and a smooth ride.  Riders can get up and walk around, enjoy quiet time for reading or online surfing, have a snack or beverage in the lounge car, or simply relax and watch the scenery.

Nelson urged Minnesotans who would be interested in the second train to Chicago to get in touch with their state legislators and Senators.  “Nothing will happen unless the legislators know their constituents are in support of better, more convenient train service,” Nelson said, “and NOW is a good time to do it… while legislators are considering transportation issues…. from the evidence we see, Minnesota could add significant new train services for one tenth of the cost of new roads in many cases… not only would it benefit the entire state economy, it would also benefit citizens from all over the state!”

About All Aboard Minnesota.
All Aboard Minnesota is a 501 ( c ) 3 non-profit advocacy and education organization focused on the expansion and developments of more long distance rail passenger service as part of a balanced transportation system.  We are dedicated to the development of fast, comfortable, frequent, intercity passenger train services within and connecting Minnesota to the upper Midwest.

For more information, All Aboard Minnesota can be reached at (612) 781-2894 or on the Web at:
www.allaboardmn.org.  

All Aboard Minnesota. All other trademarks are the sole property of their respective owners.