MOORHEAD — A group trying to rally support for a proposed daytime passenger train from Fargo-Moorhead to the Twin Cities held a gathering this week, with about 60 local residents in attendance.
Brian Nelson, president of the nonprofit group All Aboard Minnesota, and Francis Loetterle, a passenger train planner for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, gave a presentation to residents Wednesday night, Oct. 30, at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead, and to a gathering of about 40 civic leaders earlier that day.
Although residents' questions varied, it seemed that many wanted such a service as soon as possible, with the proposal calling for the train to leave Fargo at about 7 a.m., arriving in Minneapolis at about 11:25 a.m., and then a train leaving Minneapolis at 6 p.m. and arriving here at 10:30 p.m.
Proposed stops would be in Detroit Lakes, Wadena, Staples, Little Falls and St. Cloud. If funding for more involved planning is received soon, it would probably take about four years to get the five-car, 280-passenger train running, Loetterle said.
For some in the crowd, that was too long.
Loetterle said BNSF, which owns the tracks the train would run on, could start a passenger service "tomorrow" if they so desired as Amtrak's long-distance 11-car Empire Builder already runs on their tracks, although that train arrives and leaves here in the middle of the night at about 2 a.m. to 3 a.m.
When asked about daytime service, BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said in an email that "like all passenger projects proposed on our property, we would evaluate the project for safety and impacts to our freight capacity."
Loetterle said a huge advantage for adding another Fargo-Moorhead train is that "some of the best tracks in the country" are between here and Minneapolis and they wouldn't need much work for another train traveling at about 80 mph as BNSF has been updating its infrastructure.
Another advantage is that Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson is "very supportive" of developing more shorter "corridor routes" and isn't a big fan of the longer, cross-country routes like the Empire Builder, according to Nelson and Loetterle.
Loetterle explained why it would likely take up to four years for a Fargo-Moorhead daytime train to start running. He said studies, environmental and otherwise, would have to be done first for the project to qualify for federal funds. Also the tracks would have to be evaluated to make sure everything is operational, along with approval from BNSF.
To secure funding, Nelson said, residents need to write or call legislators and governors in Minnesota and North Dakota, pressuring them to support the project.
One resident noted that perhaps connections to Grand Forks, or even Winnipeg, could help make the train more affordable and draw more riders. Nelson said his organization estimates 100,000 people a year would board the train from Fargo-Moorhead.
He said Amtrak's latest cost from Fargo-Moorhead to Minneapolis was $38 one way or about $80 round trip, similar to what the second train may possibly charge.
Yes 88% No 12%
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