The Great River Rail Commission has a simple goal: install a second train to run between Chicago and the Twin Cities. However, a lot more goes into adding another passenger train than simply putting it on the tracks. The Commission, which began as the "Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission," has been working to improve train transportation between the two Midwest metro areas for a decade. After numerous stalls, the second train is slowly getting closer to becoming a reality. Goodhue County Board voted on Tuesday, March 5, to inform Gov. Tim Walz that it supports starting the next step in making the second train a reality.
Assistant county engineer Jess Greenwood explained to the commissioners that they were being asked to support a step that would carry out an environmental analysis of a second passenger train, create the service development plan, and finalize the engineering for the second rail trip train service. According to Greenwood, this step would cost the state about $4 million.
Commissioner Barney Nesseth wanted to make sure that a second passenger train would not impact freight trains before voting in favor of support. County Chair Brad Anderson assured him that this would not hinder moving freight.
"It actually will enhance freight rail because the improvements to the rail line," Anderson said.
The creation of a second passenger train will not result in adding another track. According to Commissioner Paul Drotos, who also sits on the Great River Rail Commission, laying a second track would be astronomically expensive. Instead, small sections will be added to allow a train to pull off and assure that it does not collide with another train. These sections will be available to the freight trains as well.
The main focus of the meeting was whether another passenger train is needed and worth the work and investment. Commissioner Scott Safe raised the reality that the Amtrak passenger train often runs late and is not always reliable for getting to destinations on time.
"I'm confused on how this is going to work and how it's going to be efficient," Safe said.
He did, however, vote to approve the resolution to support the next step in creating a second passenger train. Safe made it clear, however, that he was just voting for the completion of the environmental study, service development plan and finalize the engineering. He did not say whether he would support the finalization of the project.
Commissioner Jason Majerus was the only board member to vote in opposition.
Majerus stated that traveling by train "died out years ago and, it ain't coming back but, we can spend money on it and hope for the best."
The Great River Rail Commission believes that there is a market for a second train. The commission's website states:
"More than a million people travel annually between Chicago and the Twin Cities by air; more than 10 million by car. Those numbers are growing, and it's no wonder. Minnesota is home to 20 Fortune 500 companies, and the number of jobs in the Twin Cities metropolitan area is expected to grow by 34 percent by 2040."
A second train, according to the Commission, could carry 155,000 passengers each year.
The Commission's idea is that if there is a consistent, reliable passenger train system in place that runs more than once a day, some of these commuters would take the train instead of planes or cars. Along with bringing more people through Minnesota cities and towns, trains are better for the environment than the other two transportation methods, according to Drotos.
The U.S. Department of Transportation had a study done in 2009 to see the "comparative evaluation of rail and truck fuel efficiency." The study found that per gallon, a train varied from 156 to 512 ton-miles. Meanwhile, trucks range from 68 to 133 ton-miles per gallon. This study was completed 10 years ago, so both types of transportation may be more fuel efficient now.
The Board voted in favor of taking the next step needed for a second train. If and when this step will be started and completed is not yet known.