Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago Intercity Passenger Rail Service

​The Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago (TCMC) Intercity Passenger Rail Project adds a second daily round-trip passenger train on the 411-mile corridor between Chicago, Illinois and Twin Cities (St. Paul and Minneapolis) in Minnesota. The TCMC Service will follow Amtrak's existing long-distance Empire Builder route. The new service will complement the existing Empire Builder schedule, providing travel flexibility with both a morning and mid-day departure from Chicago and St. Paul. 

The partners on this project ​include:

  • Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois Departments of Transportation
  • Amtrak
  • ​Federal Railroad Administration
  • La Crosse Area Planning Committee
  • Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority

Pur​pose/Need

The $53 million TCMC Project will improve mobility and increase reliable travel options between the Midwest economic hubs of St. Paul, Minnesota, La Crosse and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Chicago, Illinois. The TCMC Project will provide an additional daily round-trip that:

  • Increases schedule options from the existing one daily round-trip to two daily round-trips between the Twin Cities, Milwaukee, Chicago and intermediate stations
  • Provides more reliable service with better on-time performance (particularly eastbound), especially important for business and student travel​
  • Provides more convenient travel times for shorter, regional trips
  • Provides more seating capacity on the corridor relieving pressure during peak periods
  • Offers improved connections between other trains, intercity buses, local public transit, and air service

This route connects many otherwise isolated rural communities. For those not traveling by personal vehicle, options are lacking for travel to and from rural areas within the TCMC Corridor. 

The additional daily intercity passenger rail round-trip will integrate with the existing Hiawatha Service schedule. The additional frequency will also facili​tate existing and planned intercity bus and shuttle connections to communities located off the rail corridor.

Overview

This project began with Amtrak’s 2015 feasibility report (PDF) on the proposed service. Analysis of existing passenger rail ridership on the Amtrak Empire Builder shows demand for regional transportation options.

Despite the limited schedule options, limited capacity, and challenges with on-time performance for eastbound travel, over 70 percent of the on/offs at Wisconsin stations are travelling to or from stations within the TCMC Corridor. The favorable ridership and revenue projections identified in the feasibility report supported a more detailed study of the proposed service.

The study's first phase evaluated alternatives for track and other infrastructure improvements required for a second round-trip, along with anticipated costs. See the Minnesota Department of Transportation's website for additional information.

To implement the additional round-trip, six rail infrastructure improvements are recommended in specific areas along the corridor. Infrastructure improvements involve:​

  • Communication and signaling upgrades
  • Rail siding extensions
  • Street-level crossing improvements
  • Extending yard lead track
  • New turnouts and mainline track reconstruction and modifications

The service will operate at conventional speeds of 79 miles per hour and stop at all existing stations on the Empire Builder route, plus the Milwaukee Airport Rail Station (MARS).

Phase 2 of the project, which is currently underway, will complete environmental documentation and a service development plan prior to final design and construction.

​Location

TCMC service will follow Amtrak's existing long-distance Empire Builder route between Chicago Union St​ation, Milwaukee Intermodal Station, and the Union Depot in St. Paul. In addition to the major metropolitan regions named above, the service connects the smaller intermediate station cities of Red Wing and Winona, Minnesota; La Crosse, Tomah, Wisconsin Dells, Portage, Columbus and Sturtevant, Wisconsin; and Glenview, Illinois.

The service uses track on Amtrak's Empire Builder and Hiawatha routes, and Metra Canadian Pacific Rail (CPR), and Union Pacific (UP) right of way and tracks.

Sched​ule

Planning for the TCMC Service began in 2012 when project partners requested that Amtrak assess the feasibility of providing a state-supported second round-trip intercity passenger train service between the Twin Cities and Chicago Union Station. Amtrak's findings, completed in 2015, ​​displayed favorable ridership and revenue projections which initiated more detailed study of the proposed service. Project partners continued planning activities for the TCMC Service between 2016 and 2018, including developing the purpose and need, alternatives analysis and conceptual engineering plans.

The ongoing work on the Service Development Plan and the environmental documentation will be completed in 2020. The final designs are expected to be completed by 2022. Following final design, construction is anticipated to begin in 2022, with completion in 2024, provided needed funds are secured. The first year of TCMC rail service is estimated to commence in 2024.  ​

Public Engagement

​A summary of public engagement meetings that wer​e held in 2017 is available on the MnDOT website. An updated presentation will be posted on this website fall 2020.

Contact​

Arun Rao, AICP, Passenger Rail Implementation Manager
(608) 266-3015
arun.rao@dot.wi.gov