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Governor Tony Evers and Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner, along with other state legislators and dignitaries cutting the ribbon for the new Borealis train service from St. Paul to Chicago - contributed photo

New Borealis train service from St. Paul to Chicago surpasses expectations with 18,500 riders in the first month

MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Tony Evers today joined the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) in celebrating preliminary figures released by Amtrak that show the new Borealis train between St. Paul and Chicago saw 18,500 riders in just its first month of service. According to Amtrak, that is an average of about 300 passengers aboard each of the eastbound and westbound trains operated daily by Amtrak under contracts with Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois. In celebration of this positive milestone, WisDOT released a video highlighting the impact and efforts to make this rail expansion possible.

“We knew this expanded service line would go a long way for travelers and commuters alike, and it’s great to see this investment and this hard work is paying off,” said Gov. Evers. “This is a critical part of our efforts to build the infrastructure Wisconsin needs to meet the demands of the 21st century, and I look forward to several exciting rail projects in the future as we work to build the multimodal transportation system for our state’s future.” 

“Borealis marks the first passenger rail service expansion in Wisconsin in 22 years and people are responding,” said WisDOT Secretary Craig Thompson. “The initial data is promising and reflects the hard work done by WisDOT, our partner states, and Amtrak to bring this service to the people of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois. We’re hopeful the more people that ride Borealis and like it, the more successful it will be.” 

Governor Tony Evers riding the Borealis train with Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner

During National Travel and Tourism Week in May, Gov. Evers joined WisDOT, Amtrak, and federal, state, and local leaders in La Crosse to celebrate the launch of the Borealis train service, which is the first expansion of passenger rail service in over 20 years in Wisconsin. The governor then hopped aboard the Borealis and rode down to Tomah.

The addition of the Borealis train service doubled passenger rail options along a corridor that connects many businesses, universities, tourist attractions, and communities in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois. In his 2023-25 biennial budget, Gov. Evers proposed more than $3.5 million to support the implementation of a second daily round-trip passenger train between the Twin Cities, Milwaukee, and Chicago. The final budget, as enacted by Gov. Evers, included $971,200 for the new Borealis route.   

The rail line stretches from St. Paul to Chicago with eight stops in Wisconsin: La Crosse, Tomah, Wisconsin Dells, Portage, Columbus, Milwaukee, the Milwaukee airport, and Sturtevant. The addition of the Borealis train is a result of years of collaboration between Amtrak, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), and Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC).

The addition of the Borealis is just the beginning of passenger rail expansion in Wisconsin. WisDOT’s Corridor Investment and Development (Corridor ID) program is exploring the feasibility of new or improved intercity passenger rail services in the state, leveraging funding opportunities made available in President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Future studies are anticipated for corridors that WisDOT is analyzing in more detail. Future studies are anticipated for additional corridors within the state. 

In Wisconsin, five Corridor ID grants have been selected for funding by the FRA, with studies into the projects beginning this summer:

  • Chicago–Milwaukee;
  • Milwaukee–Madison–Eau Claire–Twin Cities;
  • Hiawatha Extension to Green Bay (Chicago–Milwaukee–Green Bay);
  • Twin Cities–Milwaukee–Chicago (this would be for a second Borealis frequency, also via La Crosse);
  • Eau Claire–Twin Cities (project sponsored by Eau Claire County) 

Visit the Amtrak website for more information on the Borealis route, schedule, and service.

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