At today's Passenger Rail Forum meeting, we were informed that the 9-month study for a second daily train held a kickoff meeting on May 15th following a "hi-rail" tour for interested parties the previous month. Amtrak is going through its "standard feasibility study process". After 3 or 4 months, Amtrak will submit an initial draft of the report to the railroads to comment on (at least CP, but probably also including BNSF), and then release that to the state DOTs. Since this would be a "corridor" train of less than 700 miles, the plan would be for it to at least start out as a state-supported route (eek!). It's not entirely clear whether the second train will make all of the same stops as the Empire Builder, though it sounds like they're planning on making the train start in Chicago in the morning and turn around to make the run back starting in the afternoon/evening.
Four termini/routes are planned to be studied (and it looks like someone became more sane recently, because previous iterations seemed to mostly talk about Big Lake instead of St. Cloud):
- Chicago to Saint Paul Union Depot
- Chicago to Minneapolis Transportation Interchange via SPUD
- Chicago to St. Cloud via SPUD and MTI
- Chicago to St. Cloud via SPUD and Fridley
As for the multiple-trains-per-day, high(er)-speed rail project, Mn/DOT is proceeding with the Minnesota side of the Tier 1 EIS study while the situation on the other side of the St. Croix/Mississippi remains unclear. The state has written up responses to all of the comments submitted to the Alternatives Analysis report (particularly the large response from the Eau Claire area) and should be releasing a final AA document with all of the responses included pretty soon.
There's supposed to be a new webpage/website going up for the Tier 1 EIS, distinct from the existing Phase 7 MWRRI page.