A possible passenger train stop in Wadena is gaining steam after Wadena City Council members unanimously approved a resolution of support for a project on the BNSF Railway.

The passenger depot has not been used for such a thing since 1971, 50 years ago. Council members, during their regular council meeting April 13, said adding the stop could help Wadena grow as a transportation hub.

Mayor George Deiss mentioned that with Jefferson Lines bus services and this train stop, Wadena could grow as a place to stop and go.

“There’s a real good possibility where we could be a pretty good hub of transportation,” Deiss said.

“I think that people are going back to that … trains, even in rural areas,” Councilman Mark Lunde said of the use of trains for transportation. Councilman Jessie Gibbs said that developed countries invest in train transportation, so they should be supporting such a thing.

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This new service between Fargo/Moorhead, the Twin Cities and Chicago utilizes the current route of Amtrak’s Empire Builder at speeds up to 79 miles an hour. The difference is, instead of the train rolling through Wadena at 3:50 a.m., like the first train does, it would actually stop here at about 8:36 a.m. and arrive in St. Paul/Minneapolis by 11:30 a.m.

This map shows potential additional stops for a passenger train including Wadena on the BNSF Railway.
Image courtesy All Aboard Minnesota
This map shows potential additional stops for a passenger train including Wadena on the BNSF Railway. Image courtesy All Aboard Minnesota

The resolution throws support behind the idea of funding for the proposed second passenger train between the Twin Cities and Chicago by asking the Legislature to approve a minimum of $10 million that goes to match a Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement (CRISI) grant.

The state of Minnesota was awarded a CRISI grant in 2020 totaling $31.8 million for infrastructure improvements along the existing freight railroad’s right of way to enable the second train. Once operational, those supporting the project believe it could lead to passenger stops at small communities like Detroit Lakes, Wadena, Staples, Little Falls and St. Cloud, on the way to the Twin Cities and beyond to Chicago. The project is part of the broader $160 million MnDOT State Rail Plan.

It’s looked at as an option for those that don’t want to or can’t drive or fly to these destinations. The group promoting this plan believes the second train will benefit Minnesota’s economy by an estimated $25 million annually, by supporting and increasing jobs, tourism, and creating a more economical travel choice. For every $1 invested in passenger rail service, it generates $3 in every community served, according to All Aboard Minnesota, the group promoting the second train plan.

The Wadena Depot building was vacant until April 24, 2008, when the Partners for a Healthy Wadena Region (Partners) moved their office to the location. Partners is the local community 501 (c) (3) nonprofit that organized and funded the restoration efforts that began when The Partners leased the property from the City in July of 2003.

They’ve since moved out and the Wadena Chamber of Commerce has moved in. The site is currently a tourist stop, information center and can be rented for events.