Sunday, December 10, 2023

New rail stops for Sconnies? Possible, and long overdue

Last week, we found out that we were getting one step closer to having more places for Wisconsinites to travel in-state by rail.

State and local officials received five $500,000 federal grants to study expanding Amtrak passenger rail service from Milwaukee to Chicago, Green Bay, Madison, Eau Claire and the Twin Cities....

The five routes picked for further study would extend service out of Milwaukee to the 500,000-plus residents in the Madison metro area, the more than 820,000 residents along the I-41 corridor between Fond du Lac and Green Bay, and the 160,000-plus residents in Eau Claire.

Rail expansion to Waukesha County, Madison, Green Bay and other communities could attract 250,000 new riders within a decade and 1.6 million by 2050, according to Wisconsin Department of Transportation data published in May.

And that's on top of the recent announcement that there will be a second round trip between Chicago and the Twin Cities (bypassing Madison with the route shown in blue, then heading to the Twin Cities in the route in green), possibly by the end of next year. And given the fact that the second round trip will be within those regions and not part of a longer-distance train, it may have a better chance of serving places at better times with better reliability, due to fewer variables that can complicate things with longer distances.

I would think the route to Madison has better chances of starting sooner than the other new routes, because all it would require is updating information and studies that were done before Scott Walker idiotically got politicians to turn down more than $800 million in stimulus in 2010. Those funds were intended for upgraded rail lines that would have led to passenger rail service between Milwaukee, Madison and the Twin Cities six years ago.

However, we do have some idea on the costs to upgrade the tracks on service to Madison, based on what was estimated back in 2010. The one line item in particular we should look at is the "Watertown to Madison" costs, because service between Milwaukee and Watertown is already being upgraded with the second round trip between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

Given that it'll be at least 15-20 years between 2010 and whenever Amtrak service to Madison might start, you can probably double those costs (all the more reason that Walker was a moron for turning this down, it costs a lot more after you delay the work on it), so $660 million plus passenger stations and some additional environment remediation along the way.

That seems like a lot to ask for, but we definitely have the funding and Administration in DC to get it from.

So after being set back for more than a decade, it looks like things are finally (incoming pun warning!) back on track for having more Wisconsinites be able to get on a train and travel from town to town. And given how much Madison and Dane County have grown since 2010, it feels like it's more needed and ready to succeed as ever.


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