To our members;
On Dec 24 the StarTribune ran an article on the Empire Builder. We felt it was good coverage, but felt it needed some further context. Our response to the article is below. Please forward this response to your elected officials or otherwise get the word out about our cause. Thank you and Happy New Year!
All Aboard Minnesota Board.
Dear Mr. Peterson:
Your article about Amtrak’s Empire Builder correctly stated that ridership has definitely increased, and the benefits it provides over driving and flying. Your article also mentions more frequencies for Amtrak service. All Aboard Minnesota, a non-profit group whose mission is to advocate and educate for more rail passenger service for the state of Minnesota, is strongly in support of a second train frequency from the Twin Cities to Chicago. Studies have shown that more than 200 riders would use the service each way, every day, and this service would attract new ridership.1
We are also strongly in support of a stop for passenger trains in Minneapolis, in addition to St. Paul Union Depot (SPUD). While we applaud the renovation of SPUD, we believe a stop is necessary in Minneapolis/Hennepin County as the almost two thirds of the Twin Cities population reside there, and SPUD may be geographically undesirable for many. While we believe it could be higher, MnDot estimates that perhaps an additional 20,000 riders would use current Amtrak service if a Minneapolis stop were made available.2
Your article mentions “dips” in Amtrak’s ridership. Actually, Amtrak’s overall ridership has actually increased now for at least five consecutive years. Amtrak carried a record 31.3 million passengers in 2016, 400,000 more than last year, and the sixth consecutive year Amtrak has carried more than 30 million customers.3
Amtrak’s long distance services currently comprise 15 different routes, and for Amtrak’s Fiscal Year 2016 seven of these routes have seen increases in ridership over 2015, the Empire Builder being one of them. As a group, the long-distance trains carried 3.2 percent more passengers in 2016 versus 2015.4 This is in spite of, as you pointed out, record low gas prices and additional competition.
The Minnesota legislature needs to adequately fund more rail passenger service as part of a balanced transportation network. This would connect the Twin Cities to rural parts of the state, and would provide true options for the elderly, college students and others who often cannot drive or fly.
We can no longer solely rely on highway funding to meet all of our transportation needs. Rail passenger services requires less cost to add service versus new highways or airways, is environmentally friendlier, and offers comfort and safety that is superior compared to driving and buses. For more information about All Aboard Minnesota, please visit our website: www.allaboardmn.org; Thank you for your article and consideration of this response.
Brian W. Nelson-President
All Aboard Minnesota
- MnDot State Rail Passenger office study
All Aboard Minnesota’s 2016 fall membership meeting was held on Saturday, November 12… five days after the national election. This was our third such meeting, and we had record turnout and a packed agenda!
Here is a summary of the meeting:
- Board members introduced themselves and gave a brief recap of 2016 activities and achievements.
- Bob Moen gave a brief powerpoint presentation showing what he found on a recent scouting trip down UP’s “Spine Line” toward Kansas City. This route has been identified in the State Rail Plan as a “Tier Two” choice for eventual intercity passenger service. Bob reported on improved track conditions, existing station/platform infrastructure, and overall desirability of the route, which would serve important communities such as Northfield, Faribault, Owatonna, Mason City, and Des Moines.
- House Representative Alice Hausman (Chair of the Transportation Policy and Finance committee) spoke on the outlook for progress given the new makeup of the House and Senate and how we can impact outcomes.
- MnDOT Office of Passenger Rail – Dan Krom and Frank Loetterle—provided an in-depth look at their ongoing efforts to bring new service from the Twin Cities to Chicago and Duluth (NLX), and their legislative “ask” for funding and planning for 2017.
- NARP Vice-Chair John DeLora, who launched and headed the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers some 37 years ago! John had many good suggestions on how to successfully grow a nonprofit organization; and to accomplish our grass-roots communication and education objectives.
- Finally, the Board recognized several members for their important contributions in 2016. Lunch and socialization rounded out this successful get- together. Thanks to all who attended!
Fall 2016 Annual Membership Meeting – You are Invited!
The fall “all-member” meeting of All Aboard Minnesota will be held
on Saturday, November 12, and… YOU are invited!
We are extremely pleased to announce three very informative speakers for our meeting! See below for details.
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 9:00am- the meeting will begin at 9:30am will conclude at 12:00noon. Go in the main entrance on the south side of the church, walk straight back and down the hall on the left to the lounge. There will be signs to direct you.
Refreshments will be provided in the morning, and at 12:00noon, we will provide a light lunch. For directions, please click on this
This meeting is free and open to all members!
We have an exciting agenda planned including:
What has All Aboard Minnesota been doing? What are the plans going forward?
Speaker Alice Hausman – Minnesota State Rep will give her thoughts on passenger rail for the state of Minnesota and the upcoming legislative session for transportation
Speaker John Delora – Vice Chair – National Association of Railroad Passengers -and Founder-Michigan Association of Railroad passengers- advocacy lessons learned in Michigan
Speaker Dan Krom – Director – MnDot Passenger Rail Office – will give an update on key Minnesota state passenger rail initiatives
Recognizing our members – for all the great work you have done!
Member input – we want to hear your ideas!
Questions and Answers
Members are asked to RSVP in advance Reservations will be accepted up until
Monday November 7. Please rsvp your reservation to AAMN at:
This will be a great opportunity for all of us to meet, greet, and get to know each
other. We look forward to seeing you there!
Brian W. Nelson
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Legislators need to fund transportation – giving Minnesotans true transportation mobility
St. Paul, Minnesota (September 22, 2016 ) – All Aboard Minnesota was disappointed that a special session was not held to adequately fund transportation for Minnesotans. As state legislators reconvene in 2017 for a new session, we urge legislators to deliver a 2017 Transportation package that includes the $21 million needed by MnDot to fund rail passenger development on existing rail corridors designated in the State Rail Plan. The $21 million as proposed by bills HF 2791/SF2257 provides funding to expand intercity rail passenger service (Amtrak) on four key corridors within and connecting the state of Minnesota to the upper Midwest. These four main corridors are:
- Additional frequency between the Twin Cities and Chicago
- Twin Cities to Duluth
- Twin Cities to Des Moines and Kansas City
- Additional frequency between the Twin Cities and Fargo/Moorhead
Passenger rail provides convenience and true mobility options to small communities in rural areas where airline and bus service is expensive, or lacking. It also provides travel options for college students, the disabled, and the elderly that have difficulty driving or flying. It provides all weather travel safety and reliability that other modes of transportation can’t match.
More passenger rail frequencies between the Twin Cities-Chicago, Duluth and Kansas City make sense. For the additional frequency between the Twin Cities and Chicago alone, Amtrak and MnDOT recently released studies that found this service would be very popular. The preliminary study estimates that over 200 additional riders would be drawn to the service each way daily, giving people a lower-cost alternative to flying.
Additional frequencies and new service would create substantial new economic growth and increased tourism all along these four routes that could offset modest annual operating costs. It is estimated that for every dollar invested in passenger rail service, local communities benefit by up to four dollars that is brought by tourism, and additional services purchased.
“Amtrak has realized record passenger growth during the past three years, hauling over 30 million passengers each year. People from all generations all over the country are voting with their ridership that they want more passenger train service,” said Brian Nelson, President of All Aboard Minnesota, a citizen advocacy group promoting increased train travel options in Minnesota.
“The state of Minnesota is underserved by Amtrak,” he said, “with one single train, that operates through the state in the middle of the night west of the Twin Cities and only provides one daytime frequency to Chicago. Other states have invested in more and better train service: Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Washington, North Carolina, California and others. They have all seen tremendous ridership growth. Illinois doubled its train frequency and saw the trains fill up in a matter of weeks! Illinois now fills 5 trains a day from Chicago-St. Louis. It only makes sense that fast, comfortable, modern trains should be a part of a truly balanced transportation system that provides Minnesotans with mobility options,” he added.
Additionally, 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 urged Minnesotans who would benefit from additional rail passenger services to get in touch with their state and federal legislators. “Legislators need to know their constituents are in support of expanded, better, and more convenient train service,” Nelson said, “and the upcoming session in 2017 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 development 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.
2016 All Aboard Minnesota. All other trademarks are the sole property of their respective owners.
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
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
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!
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.
And a view looking west from the same foot bridge.
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:
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.
All Aboard Minnesota. All other trademarks are the sole property of their respective owners.
- March 1: a great opportunity for all members to stand up for more trains for Minnesota. One of AAMN’s top goals as an organization is to build grass-roots support for a more balanced transportation policy that includes sensible investment in modern trains. One of the best (and easiest) ways to do this is through the submission of resolutions at local precinct caucuses which will be held around the state on Tuesday evening, March 1.
Most political parties registered in Minnesota hold precinct caucuses to allow citizens to influence party policy. Caucuses are run by volunteers. Anyone can attend. There is no fee or charge. You’re are encouraged to voice your opinions. It’s democracy at its grass-roots best!
Locations of all MN precinct caucuses are now posted on the Secretary of State’s website: www.caucusfinder.sos.state.mn.us. (Or, contact your city’s administrative office). For most, your caucus location will be very close to wherever you live.
- Sample caucus resolution: The Board is offering the following resolution for all members to bring to their local caucus, which is in support of a second daily train from the Twin Cities to Chicago. Please print this resolution out and take to your precinct caucuses:
Resolution for Caucus night on March 1:
“Whereas modern, fast, comfortable intercity passenger trains are largely missing in the state of Minnesota, and
Whereas the only one Amtrak daily train that serves west central Minnesota eastbound in the very early morning hours, and westbound at very late evening hours,
Whereas new train service on existing 79-mph routes costs a small fraction of the cost of building new roads and freeway lanes, examples being that to upgrade existing railroad right of way approximately $1 million per mile and new or highway expansion costs up to $10 million per mile, and
Whereas many other U.S. states have introduced new train services which have proven to be cost-effective and popular with the traveling public, and
Whereas more convenient train service will offer an economical and comfortable way for hundreds of thousands of people each year to get back and forth to Milwaukee and Chicago as alternative to driving on congested freeways, or flying, and
Whereas additional train service has proven to create economic growth, tourism, and community vibrancy all along its routes, as studies on the federal and state level have proven that every one (1) dollar invested in intercity passenger rail yields up to four (4) dollars in economic benefit to those communities served, and
Whereas MnDOT is currently studying the feasibility of adding a new daylight 79-mph passenger train between the Twin Cities, Milwaukee, and Chicago – on a reliable schedule– thus opening up new and important travel options for citizens, now therefore
Be it resolved that we support the implementation of this new train service at the earliest opportunity, and direct our legislators to find a suitable, stable form of funding
to support it.