All Aboard Minnesota News
To our valued members: Here is our first newsletter, designed to keep you updated about what we are doing, and what is going on in our region regarding intercity passenger rail.
November 2014 newsletter
We go to meetings, participate, and give our opinions:
MnDOT’s Office of Passenger Rail holds “Minnesota Intercity Passenger Rail Forum” meetings on the first Monday of each month. Amtrak’s cost figures for adding a second Twin Cities-Chicago train are expected to be unveiled at the November 4 meeting. A second state-sponsored train is a prime objective of All Aboard MN, and we will have Board members in attendance at this presentation. This train is expected to have a morning departure from Chicago and an early afternoon departure from St. Paul, thus providing twice-daily service to Chicago.
The Minnesota High-Speed Rail group meets every other month in Red Wing. This group is mainly comprised of communities along the Empire Builder route between St. Paul and La Crosse that would like to see Twin Cities-Chicago High Speed Rail on their river route. At the latest meeting, our AAMN Board member in attendance reports that there was much dismay over the “Builder’s” poor schedule time keeping. Indeed, there has been a great deal of local media coverage over the problems that host railroads are having with the huge glut of traffic in and out of North Dakota’ Bakken oil region. The problems are so bad that Governor Dayton and both Senators Klobuchar and Franken are sounding the alarms at the federal level. AAMN is watching these developments closely, as they have been causing 3-5 hour schedule delays in both directions for Amtrak’s Empire Builder. We have been in contact with Amtrak, and the National Association of Railroad Passengers in Washington and Chicago offering suggestions to mitigate the impact on passengers.
We take field trips:
AAMN President Brian Nelson and Treasurer Bob Moen recently took Amtrak out to Minot and Williston, in order to see firsthand BNSF trackwork in progress across North Dakota. BNSF has been spending hundreds of millions of dollars to add and lengthen existing sidings, install signaling, and otherwise add capacity along the routes in and out of the Bakken region. (See our website for photos and the complete report).
We witnessed the greatest amount of new railroad construction in North Dakota in a hundred years. Armies of men and equipment are at work bulldozing hills, filling in valleys, grading and laying new track, and building new bridges. When complete, the main line from Minot west to Williston will be double tracked, and the Builder’s route between Minot, Grand Forks and Fargo will have been upgraded to 79-mph with many new sidings and signal systems throughout. BNSF will have built 55 miles of new double track between Minot and Williston by yearend. We came away with the conclusion that BNSF is doing everything it can to get its railroad unclogged. Until this work is all completed (probably next fall), Amtrak’s Empire Builder will, unfortunately, still be subject to track and congestion-related delays. There is only so much track capacity until this work is done. Next year, BNSF will concentrate its efforts on upgrading capacity between Fargo and Minneapolis.
On October 10, BNSF and Amtrak made a change to the “Builder’s” schedule in North Dakota. Eastbound #8 now goes east from Minot on the Surrey Cutoff via New Rockford, while westbound #7 now goes via Grand Forks to Minot. Eastbound passengers are now bussed to stations between Minot and Fargo. BNSF is moving all their traffic in one direction on each route to improve flow and didn’t want Amtrak to be the only train trying to move against the current in the opposite direction. BNSF is also picking up the tab for the bus operation. This is a temporary change until the track and signal work on the lines are completed.
A partnership between Amtrak and Jefferson Lines now connects with the Empire Builder in Williston, N.D., by bus to eight Montana destinations: Sydney, Glendive, Miles City, Billings, Livingston, Bozeman, Butte and Missoula. These are the stations that were once served by Amtrak’s North Coast Hiawatha until that Chicago-Seattle/Portland train was discontinued for political reasons in 1979. All Aboard Minnesota strongly supports the reestablishment of this train via the southern route through North Dakota and Montana, connecting through Minnesota. Amtrak’s own study showed that this train would be the 4th best performing train in the Amtrak system if reinstated. http://www.amtrak.com/ccurl/492/133/NorthCoastHiawathaServiceStudy.pdf
MN DOT seeks public input on State Rail Plan:
A series of public meetings will be held across the state over the next few weeks. Here are the places and dates:http://www.dot.state.mn.us/planning/railplan/
What can you do to support our goal of better passenger train service throughout Minnesota? Contact your newly elected, or re-elected State and Federal Congressmen, and Senators to voice your opinion about the need for passenger rail. Make a point to contact your representatives and ask them if they support increased passenger rail service… and let them know that if so, they have your support! All candidates have websites, campaign offices, and e-mail addresses….making these contacts easier than ever! So don’t be bashful…. make those contacts, and let your representatives know you want more and better train service in our region! The more people that do this, the more likely that the message will get through. We thank you for your support, and of course, membership with All Aboard Minnesota. Together, we will make a difference for increased mobility through passenger rail!
Brian W. Nelson – President