Amtrak’s New Borealis Train Expands Service Between Two Great Midwestern Cities

Amtrak predicts the new train will welcome more than 200,000 passengers aboard within its first year of service, and it’s expected to greatly reduce car use along the Midwestern route.

Image of a downtown Chicago street at dusk with streetlights on, cars parked on the street but no traffic and several office buildings

Chicagoans will soon have more options for traveling to the Twin Cities without the use of a car.

Photo by Chris Dickens/Unsplash

A new Amtrak service will soon open more possibilities for travel within the Midwest.

The rail company just announced plans to launch a train service starting May 21, called the Borealis line, which will connect Minneapolis–St. Paul, Minnesota, and Chicago, Illinois.

The service overlaps with the Hiawatha route between Chicago and Milwaukee (operating seven times a day) and the Empire Builder, which connects Chicago and Seattle once daily, with a stop in Minneapolis–St. Paul. Repairs and upgrades to the existing tracks made the second daily service possible for the first time since 1981. Amtrak predicts the Borealis train will see 232,000 passengers within its first year of service, which the Rail Passengers Association estimates will translate to 90,000 fewer people using personal vehicles.

“A second daily passenger rail service connecting St. Paul to Chicago via Milwaukee is a welcome addition to our transportation system, providing more choices and travel flexibility for passengers,” Nancy Daubenberger, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said in a statement.

The intercity passenger train will operate daily, with one train going in each direction. The eastbound train is scheduled to depart the Twin Cities at 11:50 a.m. and arrive in the Windy City at 7:14 p.m., while the westbound train will start rolling at 11:05 a.m. and come to a halt at 6:29 p.m. At 7 hours and 24 minutes, the journey takes roughly one hour longer than driving between the two metro areas would (without traffic delays).

Coach tickets will start at $41 one-way for adults, while business-class seats start at $98 each way. Discounts are available for children, students, seniors, current and former military personnel and their families, and groups. According to Amtrak, there will be free Wi-Fi on the train, a café car serving regional specialties, and reclining chairs (with no middle seats).

A large bridge heading into Minneapolis–St. Paul (pictured) in Minnesota with a few tall office buildings and some birds flying overhead

The Borealis service connects Chicago with Minneapolis–St. Paul (pictured) in Minnesota.

Photo by Weston M/Unsplash

The train will make additional stops in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois. The stops will include Red Wing and Winona in Minnesota; La Crosse, Tomah, Wisconsin Dells, Portage, Columbus, Milwaukee, Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport, and Sturtevant in Wisconsin; and Glenview, Illinois.

“There were years when it seemed as if this announcement would never take place, and yet here we are today celebrating a new round trip that will transform transportation in this busy corridor,” Jim Mathews, president and CEO of advocacy group Rail Passengers Association, stated in a press release. “Passenger trains mean trips that are taken off of highways and out of the sky, saving lives, limiting pollution, and opening up new possibilities. These new trains also mean new trips that would not have otherwise taken place at all, producing direct returns for the communities they serve.”

The new service is an example of the types of rail enhancement and expansion projects being supported under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that Congress passed in 2021. And it may be just the beginning of expanded passenger rails within this segment of the Midwest. The proposed Northern Lights Express service, which would connect the Twin Cities and Duluth, Minnesota, is currently being studied, and a proposal for new service from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to the Twin Cities (through Menomonie and Hudson in Wisconsin) also recently won a federal grant for preliminary funding.

Bailey Berg is a freelance travel writer and editor, who covers breaking news, trends, tips, transportation, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. She was formerly the associate travel news editor at Afar. Her work can also be found in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the Points Guy, Atlas Obscura, Vice, Thrillist, Men’s Journal, Architectural Digest, Forbes, Lonely Planet, and beyond.
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