Amtrak seeks to add new routes from Twin Cities to Duluth, Wisconsin cities

President Biden's new proposal could help make it happen.
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An Amtrak train in St. Paul.

An Amtrak train in St. Paul.

If Congress passes President Joe Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure proposal, Amtrak says it would add dozens of new routes, including service between the Twin Cities and Duluth and a second daily trip from the Twin Cities to Chicago. 

In the "American Jobs Plan" proposal, Biden — a known train enthusiast and frequent Amtrak rider, which earned him the nickname "Amtrak Joe" — has designated $80 billion specifically for passenger and freight rail. 

Amtrak on Wednesday said if Congress does pass the proposal, it would add up to 30 new routes and expand service to 160 more communities across the country over the next 15 years. Doing so would boost ridership by 20 million passengers (in 2019, Amtrak served 32 million riders), Amtrak estimates.

Amtrak's new services are in light blue, with Amtrak's National Network in the darker blue-green. 

Amtrak's new services are in light blue, with Amtrak's National Network in the darker blue-green. 

Currently, Minnesota has one Amtrak route, called Empire Builder, that provides service between Chicago, the Twin Cities and Seattle.

Adding another route between the Twin Cities and Chicago via Madison and new routes that would connect the Twin Cities to Duluth and Eau Claire is part of Amtrak's 2035 vision to grow its service but it needs federal funding to make it happen. 

The map below shows the new services (in light blue), Amtrak's existing National Network (the dark blue-green color) and where Amtrak plans to enhance service (yellow).

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has been studying adding passenger rail service between Duluth and the Twin Cities, saying it would offer an alternative way to travel that's safe and reliable, noting it would serve business and tourism.

And since 2012, MnDOT has been working with the transportation departments in Wisconsin and Illinois at the request of Amtrak to assess the feasibility of adding a second daily round-trip service on the Empire Builder route between the Twin Cities and Chicago. 

MnDOT and the other transportation departments are taking public comments on the $53 million Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago intercity passenger rail service proposal until April 9, with Wisconsin Public Radio noting it would be paid for with FRA grants, but would require Minnesota to match $10 million and Wisconsin to match $6.2 million. 

Amtrak says the funding in Biden's plan would also allow Amtrak to make improvements across its system, including upgrading and replacing tunnels and bridges.

“President Biden’s infrastructure plan is what this nation has been waiting for," Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn said in a statement. "... Amtrak has a bold vision to bring energy-efficient, world-class intercity rail service to up to 160 new communities across the nation, as we also invest in our fleet and stations across the U.S. With this federal investment, Amtrak will create jobs and improve equity across cities, regions, and the entire country – and we are ready to deliver.

"America needs a rail network that offers frequent, reliable, sustainable and equitable train service. Now is our time, let’s make rail the solution," Flynn added. 

More on Biden's proposal

Biden's "American Jobs Plan," which he announced March 31, is an infrastructure, jobs and climate plan the president says will overhaul the nation's economy. 

“It’s not a plan that tinkers around the edges,” Biden said during a speech in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, according to The Wall Street Journal. “It’s a once-in-a-generation investment in America.”

The proposal aims to fix deteriorating roads and bridges, combat climate change, address the affordable housing crisis, and fix decaying water systems, among other things.

The overall plan was met with criticism, though. Republicans called it a partisan wish-list; some Democrats said it doesn't do enough to combat climate change, while others criticized it for being too big; and business groups are upset about corporate tax increases from 21% to 28% to help pay for the plan, the Washington Post says

The publication adds Republican leaders' immediate opposition to the proposal suggests bipartisan compromise on a large infrastructure project such as this is unlikely, and it may have a tough time getting approved by Congress, where Democrats have a narrow majority. 

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