Rail ad­vo­cates re­main optimistic that a second daily Am­trak train could be add­ed be­tween the Twin Cities and Chi­ca­go, even though the Leg­is­la­ture didn't fund a $4 mil­lion request to help pay for the pro­ject.

While dis­ap­point­ed, "I think we fi­nal­ly got some mo­men­tum this legis­la­tive ses­sion," said Mark Vaughan, chairman of the Great River Rail Commission, a group of local gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials in Min­ne­so­ta and Wis­con­sin that sup­port ef­forts to add a se­cond train. He's hope­ful lawmakers will see fit to fund the project next year.

The se­cond train would car­ry pas­sen­gers in both di­rec­tions once a day be­tween Chi­ca­go's Union Station and Union Depot in St. Paul — ser­ving the 13 sta­tions on Am­trak's Empire Build­er long-dis­tance route, as well as Mil­wau­kee's General Mitchell International Airport.

Be­cause the serv­ice would not be part of the Empire Build­er cross-coun­try route, sup­port­ers say trav­el times would be fast­er — a­bout 7.5 hours for the trip.

The project is ex­pect­ed to cost $130 mil­lion to $140 mil­lion in state and fed­er­al money.

This year's fund­ing re­quest by the Min­ne­so­ta Department of Transportation (MnDOT) would have paid for more en­vi­ron­men­tal and de­sign work and serv­ice plan­ning.

"We're kind of on life sup­port for right now from our per­spec­tive, but we're keep­ing the pro­ject mov­ing for­ward," said Dan Krom, di­rec­tor of MnDOT's Pas­sen­ger Rail Office.

Mean­while, Wis­con­sin lawmakers this year al­lo­cat­ed $300,000 to fund en­vi­ron­men­tal work re­lated to the pro­ject.

The budg­et pause in Min­ne­so­ta comes as Am­trak rolls out its strat­egy for na­tion­al serv­ice in the next month and as Congress de­bates the rail­road's reauthorization and cap­i­tal fund­ing for com­ing years.

Am­trak CEO Rich­ard Anderson told a Senate com­mit­tee in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., last week that there is "great po­ten­tial — and great need — to in­crease trav­el by train in un­der 400-mile cor­ri­dors be­tween ma­jor cit­ies through­out the Unit­ed States." The se­cond train route be­tween the Windy City and the Twin Cities would cover just over 400 miles.

Anderson not­ed that pas­sen­ger rail suits smartphone-tot­ing, ur­ban-dwell­ing millennials be­cause sta­tions are in city centers and trains have Wi-Fi and "con­tem­po­rary food and bev­er­age choi­ces in the cafe car."

Am­trak's cur­rent route net­work is not de­signed to meet em­er­ging trav­el needs and pas­sen­ger de­mand in fast-grow­ing population centers, Anderson said. For ex­am­ple, Am­trak doesn't serve surg­ing hot spots Las Vegas, Phoe­nix, Nash­ville or Columbus, Ohio.

Anderson didn't men­tion the se­cond train between Chicago and the Twin Cities in his tes­ti­mo­ny be­fore the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. But Am­trak spokes­man Marc Magliari said the pro­ject, along with a revival of pas­sen­ger serv­ice be­tween the Twin Cities and Du­luth, would "bring Am­trak trains that are safe, re­li­able and relevant, both pro­vid­ing valu­able al­ter­na­tives to driv­ing in cur­rent and new Am­trak mar­kets."

An Am­trak fea­si­bil­i­ty study found that add­ing a se­cond train daily could at­tract 155,000 new rides an­nu­al­ly, in ad­di­tion to the ex­ist­ing 123,000 pas­sen­gers tak­ing the Empire Build­er, which be­gins in Chi­ca­go and ends in Se­at­tle or Port­land.

"You'd be pro­vid­ing an op­tion for folks who don't want to fly or drive, or can't drive any­more or choose not to drive," Krom said. On cur­rent Empire Build­er east­bound trains, only 25% of the pas­sen­gers get­ting on the train in St. Paul con­sider Chi­ca­go their des­ti­na­tion, he said.

"A lot of peo­ple from Red Wing, Winona, La Crosse, Tomah, the Dells are get­ting on and off," Krom add­ed. "It's pro­vid­ing ac­cess for peo­ple for those mar­kets in be­tween where there aren't many op­tions to fly."