Federal officials have awarded a $31.8 million federal grant to add a second daily round-trip on Amtrak’s line connecting Chicago, Milwaukee and the Twin Cities.
The money will be used on Amtrak’s 400-mile Empire Builder route, which connects Chicago and the Twin Cities, running through Milwaukee, the Wisconsin Dells, La Crosse and other small cities. The proposed $53 million project would add morning and mid-day service in Chicago and the Twin Cities.
“The expanded service provides a much-improved connection between the Midwest economic hubs of Minneapolis/St. Paul, La Crosse, Milwaukee and Chicago,” Craig Thompson, WisDOT Secretary-designee said in a statement. “Just as important is the enhanced service for residents in the many rural communities. They will have increased travel options, with better reliability and on-time performance.”
The federal grant comes as a big step forward in work to secure funding for the project. The Federal Railroad Administration grant covers final design work and planning for the project. Other partners — including Amtrak and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation — must cover the remaining $21.2 million cost to accept the award.
Earlier this year, the Federal Railroad Administration awarded the project a $12.6 million grant to offset Amtrak’s operating costs in the first year of service.
Planning for the project began in 2012 when Amtrak began studying the possibility of adding a route. A 2015 report from the railroad operator found support for the addition, and Amtrak and its partners began studying that possibility in detail. The project is now in the final stages of planning. Construction is expected to start in 2022 and wrap up in 2024.Follow @natebeck9