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Amtrak's new route running between St. Paul and Chicago is right on track to meet ridership expectations, and in its early days turned a profit, a rarity for the company providing intercity passenger rail service.

More than 18,500 passengers have hopped on the Borealis since its maiden voyage May 21, a monthly figure on par with the projected 232,000 riders expected to use the service in its first year.

"The number of rides in the first month clearly demonstrates the need for this route," said Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Nancy Daubenberger. "We are optimistic numbers will remain strong and the Borealis service will continue to provide a safe, sustainable and accessible transportation option."

Borealis trains depart Union Depot at 11:50 a.m. seven days a week and stop in Red Wing and Winona in Minnesota before making multiple stops in Wisconsin on its way to Chicago's Union Station. Trips take about 7½ hours. Return trips depart the Windy City at 11:05 a.m. and arrive in St. Paul at 6:29 p.m.

Westbound trips out of Chicago saw slightly higher ridership with an average of 330 riders while eastbound trips carried about 288 passengers, according to Amtrak.

Officials say the Twin Cities-to-Milwaukee-to-Chicago route has high potential and could see even more passengers as the service matures. The line also serves several markets with colleges and universities, which could also attract students this fall, said Ray Lang, Amtrak's vice president of state-supported services.

"The ridership numbers we have seen so far confirm our belief and we expect this trend to continue as the service matures and we head into the peak summer travel season," he said.

Amtrak is enjoying a new wave of popularity after suffering a severe downturn during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. The rail service experienced record ridership in May and is on pace to see record yearly ridership, which was 32.3 million in 2019, Amtrak's CEO Stephen Gardner told the U.S. House Transportation Committee last month.

The Empire Builder, the other Amtrak route serving the Twin Cities, saw a 15% ridership growth from fiscal year 2022 to 2023. The train running from Chicago to the Twin Cities to Fargo-Moorhead and then to the Pacific Northwest cities of Portland and Seattle saw ridership rise from 303,500 to nearly 349,000 from October 1, 2022, to September 30, 2023, Amtrak figures show.

Borealis operates under a contract Amtrak has with the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois. In its first 11 days, more than 6,600 travelers rode the line, according to the railroad's Monthly Performance Report through the end of May. The document also showed Borealis took in $600,000 in revenue and spent $500,000 on operations. The $100,000 profit made Borealis one of only two state-sponsored lines to operate in the black, the report showed. Amtrak has 30 state-sponsored lines.