Moorhead could see a second passenger train as an extension of the new route from Minneapolis to Chicago – InForum

MOORHEAD – Approval has been given to operate a second daytime passenger train from the Twin Cities to Chicago this week, and the leader of a train advocacy group said extending the additional train to Fargo-Moorhead could be the next step.

Brian Nelson, president of All Aboard Minnesota, said adding the route to the metro area and possibly even Grand Forks is the number one railroad project ranked by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

He thinks the Minnesota Legislature’s funding approval for the second train to Chicago will have “a domino effect” which he says could be good news for the route to the border here, as well as a Duluth train to Minneapolis.

“I think it’s going to be very successful right off the bat,” Nelson said of the ridership of the train that will depart eastbound from the Twin Cities at 11:30 a.m. on its 411-mile journey. He will arrive in Chicago at 7 p.m. He will join a former Amtrak Empire Builder train that departs at 8 a.m. and arrives in Chicago at 2:15 p.m.

The new route should start in 2024.

The second train round trips will depart Chicago at 10:30 a.m. and arrive in Minneapolis at 5:30 p.m. Currently, the Empire Builder leaves Chicago at 2:15 p.m. and arrives in Minneapolis at 10 p.m.

Although it will likely take around three years to get the second train running if funding is secured, Nelson said, the additional route to Fargo-Moorhead could be planned and worked on at the same time as the other route.

“We will push for the second train to Fargo-Moorhead,” he said.

Currently, the train that stops at the Fargo Amtrak depot heads east at 2:18 a.m. if on time and arrives in the Twin Cities at 7:43 a.m. the train departs at 3:24 a.m.

So another train at a later time would be much more convenient for travelers in the area.

The reason for the rather long three-year wait to get the second train running, Nelson said, is that there must be a lot of work on a bottleneck on the Canadian Pacific line in the Winona area, Minnesota, plus needs improvement near Milwaukee airport and depot.

Work on the CP line will include track, crossing, switch and grade improvements.

The MnDOT has worked hand-in-hand with Wisconsin transportation planners, and if the FM route is added, Nelson suspects they will also work with the North Dakota Department of Transportation.

While the Amtrak Empire Builder should receive the contract to operate the second train, Nelson said, there could be competitors.

Another selling point for adding Fargo-Moorhead to the route, Nelson said, is the “excellent condition” of the Burlington Northern rail line.

It’s “one of the best stretches of railroading in the United States,” he said, citing safe crossings, signaling and double tracks.

When BNSF was asked about the possibility of using its trail that crosses Minnesota diagonally from Moorhead to Minneapolis, comments from spokeswoman Lydia Bjorge were not so positive.

In an email, she said: “BNSF has long-standing Passenger Principles that guide discussions about hosting passenger projects on our property. Our considerations include the safety and protection of current and future freight customers in North Dakota and the rest of our network.

“Adding additional passenger service would require careful planning and discussion on how to provide current and future freight service for our agricultural, energy and other customers,” she said.

Nelson and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., believe rail improvements will help freight operations.

Klobuchar, who weighed in on approved funding for the second train in a statement, said the additional passenger trains would “boost travel and tourism while expanding economic growth in our region.”

She said it will provide “convenient access to jobs, cultural attractions, top universities and world-class healthcare and better connect small urban and rural communities.”

She said rail upgrades should improve the punctuality of passenger and freight trains.

The extra trains will eventually come down to funding, as Nelson believes “the demand is there”, especially with demographics showing young people, possibly students, would be among the most common passengers.

This too makes the Fargo-Moorhead area attractive because of the three universities.

Nelson said a $25 million bill at the start of Minnesota’s legislative session was cut to $10 million. Minnesota’s legislative assistance this year will be in addition to a $32 million federal grant provided last year for rail upgrades to enable the second train.

If Congress can approve its federal infrastructure bill this year, Nelson said, that could also be a major factor in accelerating any expansion of passenger trains.

Jose P. Rogers