HNTB worked with Wisconsin and Minnesota department of transportation, the Federal Railroad Administration, Amtrak, and Class I railroads to implement a second daily round-trip passenger service – known as the Borealis – as part of the Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago (TCMC) corridor. The project improves mobility and increases reliable travel options while minimizing capital investment. At 411 miles in length, the line leverages a shared-use corridor at conventional speeds with 13 existing stations.

Pre-NEPA Activities
The corridor connects both rural and urban communities along the most highly traveled intercity passenger rail corridor in Wisconsin and Minnesota. The project’s initial phase involved pre-NEPA activities, operational analysis, conceptual engineering and capital cost estimating. HNTB’s pre-NEPA activities included preparing a purpose and need statement, conducting a route and service alternatives analysis, performing initial operational analysis, and performing stakeholder, public and agency outreach.

NEPA Analysis and Service Development Plan
The second phase completed the NEPA analysis and Service Development Plan (SDP). HNTB led the NEPA analysis using a categorical exclusion (CE) document, which environmentally cleared the entire corridor consisting of five individual infrastructure projects. HNTB coordinated with the FRA regarding the environmental clearance documents along with several federal and state agencies.

The firm was also played a key role in refining and finalizing the operational analysis and compiling all elements into an FRA-approved SDP. HNTB worked closely with Class I railroads and Amtrak on refining the service alternative related to schedules and impacts to freight and passenger options. The SDP followed FRA statues and guidance, and included additional elements related to operational funding and benefit cost analysis.

HNTB prepared two successful FRA grants applications worth approximately $37 million. The FRA Restoration and Enhancement (R&E) grant will support the state service through assistance with operations and maintenance costs during the initial three-year operational period. The FRA CRISI grant was selected for final design and construction.

Final Design
While coordination with stakeholders has allowed the new service line to begin running, HNTB is currently assisting with implementing the service through final design. This phase includes right-of-way acquisition, utilities, track/civil design, geotechnical, structures, construction cost estimating, at-grade crossing and permitting. The firm is also assisting WisDOT with grant management and quarterly reporting.


Image courtesy of WisDOT and Amtrak.

Location: Twin cities, MN to Milwaukee, WI to Chicago, IL

Client: WisDOT, MnDOT, FRA, Amtrak and CPKC