The westbound Borealis at Red Wing station in May 2024.

(Jerry Huddleston from Hampton, Minnesota, US, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)


Amtrak logo.


The Borealis, referred to as Twin Cities–Milwaukee–Chicago (TCMC) during planning, is an Amtrak inter-city rail service that operates daily between Chicago, Illinois, and Saint Paul, Minnesota, via Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The first service began on May 21, 2024, under the Amtrak Midwest brand.

The train supplements the long-distance Empire Builder, serving the same stations but with higher reliability and complementary departure times. As an extension of an existing Chicago–Milwaukee Hiawatha Service train, the Borealis doubled Amtrak service frequency between Milwaukee and Saint Paul.


The North Coast Hiawatha (left) and North Star at Midway station in St. Paul in 1978.

(Hikki Nagasaki, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)



Previous services
Prior to Amtrak, private railroads ran passenger service between the Twin Cities and Chicago on several corridors. The Chicago and North Western Railway (C&NW) operated Twin Cities–Chicago trains via Madison until the late 1950s, and via Milwaukee until the Twin Cities 400 was discontinued on July 23, 1963. The Milwaukee Road ran all its Twin Cities–Chicago trains via Milwaukee; by 1971, all that remained of the railroad's Twin Cities service was the daily Morning Hiawatha plus the eastbound Fast Mail. The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (CB&Q) operated a more westerly Twin Cities–Chicago route via Savanna, Illinois. It merged into the Burlington Northern Railroad (BN) in 1970; by 1971, the BN offered three daily Twin Cities–Chicago round trips on the Morning Zephyr, Afternoon Zephyr, Empire Builder, and North Coast Limited.

Amtrak took over most intercity passenger rail service in the United States on May 1, 1971, keeping only half of existing service. The only Twin Cities–Chicago service that remained was the Empire Builder, which was rerouted over the Milwaukee Road between the Twin Cities and Chicago in order to serve Milwaukee. The tri-weekly North Coast Hiawatha began operating on June 14, 1971; it was combined with the Empire Builder between Minneapolis and Chicago. The North Coast Hiawatha began operating separately east of Minneapolis on November 14, 1971. A new Minneapolis–Chicago train, the Hiawatha, ran quad-weekly; this provided two daily round trips between Minneapolis and Chicago.

The Minneapolis–Chicago train was renamed Twin Cities Hiawatha on January 16, 1972, but returned to Hiawatha on October 29, 1972. The North Coast Hiawatha ran daily during the summers of 1974 to 1977, and the separate Hiawatha did not operate.  Twin Cities–Chicago service was temporarily reduced to one daily round trip on September 8, 1977, with the Empire Builder operating quad-weekly and the North Coast Hiawatha operating tri-weekly. On October 30, 1977, the two trains were changed to an overnight schedule between Minneapolis and Chicago, with the daily Twin Cities Hiawatha operating on a daytime schedule on the corridor.

On April 30, 1978, the Empire Builder and North Coast Hiawatha resumed their former schedules. The Twin Cities Hiawatha was moved to the overnight schedule and through-routed with the Twin Cities–Duluth Arrowhead to form the North Star. The North Coast Hiawatha was discontinued in October 1979, while the Empire Builder became tri-weekly until 1982.  The North Star was discontinued on April 7, 1985; Twin Cities–Chicago service from 1985 to 2024 was only the daily Empire Builder.


TCMC project
The TCMC project began in 2015 after the conclusion of a feasibility report by Amtrak. Based on the favorable ridership and revenue projections MnDOT led a Phase 1 study in cooperation with WisDOT, IDOT, the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority and the FRA to analyze service alternatives, infrastructure upgrades and anticipated costs. The Phase 2 study was led by WisDOT to complete the environmental review and prepare a Service Development Plan. Schedule delays from Seattle to St. Paul have been cited as part of the interest in having a reliable departure time from St.Paul.

Infrastructure upgrades for the project are required in La Crosse, La Crescent, Winona and St. Paul. The total capital cost is $53.3 million, which has been fully funded by federal grants, WisDOT and MnDOT. The project is scheduled to begin construction in 2023 and begin operations with one train in 2023. The TCMC service is anticipated to be the first phase of additional Amtrak service across Wisconsin with eventual extensions to Madison and Eau Claire.

In a public meeting on December 1, 2022, an Amtrak representative stated that the service was expected to start by summer 2023 with the name Great River, after the Mississippi River (Misi-ziibi means "Great River" in Ojibwe). A paper by the Wisconsin Legislature's Legislative Fiscal Bureau, published on June 6, 2023, for the legislature's Joint Committee on Finance, estimated that service would start in September 2023, with related construction to improve service beginning in early 2024 and ending in mid-to-late 2025. However, in fall 2023 the estimated start date of the train slipped to 2024.

In December 2023, the FRA accepted the Chicago–La Crosse–St. Paul route into its Corridor Identification and Development Program. The move grants $500,000 toward studying additional frequency on the route, and prioritizes the corridor for future federal funding.

In a February 2024 update, WisDOT announced that the service would be named the Borealis instead of the Great River, and that the train would use refurbished Horizon railcars. However, the new name for the service was retracted within 24-hours of its announcement. Amtrak officially announced the train as the Borealis in its press release introducing the train and announcing ticket sales on April 30, 2024. Service began on May 21, 2024.


A Borealis train in May 2024.

(Jerry Huddleston from Hampton, Minnesota, US, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)



The Borealis has eleven intermediate stops between the two terminals. It is scheduled for 7 hours 24 minutes in each direction, included a five-minute stop in Milwaukee. The train was an extension of an existing Chicago–Milwaukee Hiawatha Service round trip, renumbered from 333/340 to 1333/1340. Train 1333 departs Chicago at 11:05 am and arrives in St. Paul at 6:29 pm. Train 1340 departs St. Paul at 11:50 am and arrive in Chicago at 7:14 pm. Ridership is projected to be 124,000 passengers per year in 2024.

A typical Borealis consist has four Horizon Fleet coach class cars and one Amfleet cafe/business class car. One or two GE Genesis diesel locomotives are used.

An extension of the route to Target Field station in Minneapolis, Fridley, and St. Cloud has been considered. Through the federal Corridor ID Program, a second route Chicago–Twin Cities route that includes Madison and Eau Claire is being studied.


Route and Stops

To see route and stops information, click HERE.



Service type: Inter-city rail
Status: Operating
Locale: Midwestern United States
Predecessor: Twin Cities Hiawatha, Twin Cities 400, Viking Twin Zephyr
First service: May 21, 2024
Current operator: Amtrak
Route Termini: Chicago, Illinois / Saint Paul, Minnesota
Stops: 11
Distance traveled: 411 mi (661 km)
Average journey time: 7 hours, 20 minutes
Service frequency: Daily
Train numbers: 1333, 1340
On-board services
Classes: Coach Class; Business Class
Disabled access: Yes
Catering facilities: Café
Baggage facilities: Overhead racks
Rolling stock: GE Genesis Locomotives, Horizon coaches, Amfleet café
Track gauge: 4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Operating speed: 54 mph (87 km/h) (avg.); 79 mph (127 km/h) (top)
Track owner: CPKC, Metra