Sign of the Times: Chicago-Minneapolis Amtrak service is expanding to twice daily

An Empire Builder train in Glenview. Photo: Jeff Zoline
An Empire Builder train in Glenview. Photo: Jeff Zoline

Good news: In the future it’s going to get a little easier for Chicagoans to sample an authentic Twin Cities-style Juicy Lucy.

According to Railway Gazette, the plan for a second daily Amtrak Empire Builder Line run between Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul is moving forward thanks to the award of a $31.8 million grant from the Federal Railroad Administration. The funding, which comes from the Consolidated Railroad Infrastructure and Safety Improvement grant program, is being matched by $21.2 million from the railroad, plus $10 million from Minnesota and $6.2 million from Wisconsin.

Due to falling ridership during the COVID-19 pandemic, this year Empire Builder service was reduced from one run per day to only three trips per week. (There’s still more frequent service on the southern section of the route between Chicago and Milwaukee via the Amtrak Hiawatha Line.)

The cash will be used for final design work for a half-dozen infrastructure upgrades to Canadian Pacific’s Soo Line route, which Amtrak uses for Empire Builder service. This work will provide additional capacity for the extra Chicago-Twin Cities run, plus an eighth daily Hiawatha trip in each direction.

So hopefully the next time you want to travel to Minneapolis, there’ll be no need to drive a “Little Red Corvette.”

In other Midwestern rail news, a $15.6 million CRISI grant went to the Michigan Department of Transportation to pay for level crossing upgrades on the stretch of Amtrak’s Michigan Line between Kalamazoo and Dearborn, in the Detroit area. Michigan aims to raise train speeds on that line to 110 mph.

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