AAMN Response to Empire Builder Article by Star Tribune
January 2, 2017
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