A fix for always-late Empire Builder: A second train?

Bob Collins | MPR News

Not surprisingly, the Empire Builder eastbound Amtrak train to Chicago is pulling into Winona, Minn., at this hour about four hours and 30 minutes late. The one that’s due through here tomorrow is already around 90 minutes behind schedule.

What might be a solution to the misery? How about a second train each day?

In a news release today, the Minnesota Department of Transportation and Amtrak claim that a second train between St. Paul and Chicago each day would add about 50,000 150,000 more passengers a year to the current 104,000 with one train.

They release details of a study that says to do so would require $95 million for the Chicago-to-St. Paul scenario, more if the route would include St. Cloud, Minn., and Minneapolis. If new train equipment is used, toss in another $46.4 million cost.

(Update 7/6/15 2:28 p.m. – Fabulous article from streets.mn on the scenarios in the study. Second Train to Chicago: Still Running Late)

The service would also require $6.6 million from the state each year to pay for the shortfall between ticket revenue and cost. Under federal law, Amtrak is limited to paying for only 15 percent of the operating cost.

The theory is that a second train would provide more reliability on a route that has absolutely none right now.

What are the odds that Minnesota lawmakers would pony up that kind of money?

Do the math. Fifty-five thousand additional passengers with a $6.6 million subsidy works out to $120 per passenger per year, or just about half the amount a passenger pays for a ticket.

Don’t get your hopes up, rail fans.
Archive: At Union Depot, a celebration of a failed transportation option