Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago rail proposal moving forward

DOTs hosting public meetings for intercity rail project in September

A proposed Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago (TCMC) Intercity Passenger Rail Service project that would connect Chicago to Minneapolis, by way of Milwaukee, took another step forward last week.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation released its “purpose and need statement” for the project, marking the beginning of the public involvement and environmental study portion of the proposal to add an Amtrak line across the state of Wisconsin.

TCMC proposed route.

The TCMC corridor already exists. It is a 418-mile rail corridor connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul, Milwaukee and Chicago and providing service to smaller cities including La Crosse, Tomah, Wisconsin Dells and Portage.

It is currently served by Amtrak’s long-distance Empire Builder service that operates between Chicago and Seattle and Portland, which provides one trip per day in each direction, with several stops in Wisconsin.

Amtrak also has operated the Hiawatha Service since 1989 and currently serves stations at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station, Mitchell International Airport and Sturtevant and Glenview and Chicago in Illinois. In 2016, ridership was 815,196, according to the purpose and need statement.

TCMC Intercity Passenger Rail Service would add a second, shorter-distance train along the route between union Depot in Saint Paul and Union Station in Chicago, making two stops in Milwaukee, downtown and at the airport.

A 2015 feasibility report conducted by MnDOT and the Wisconsin DOT found the corridor could support an additional train based on expected population increases and economic growth projected within the corridor.

Last week, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker announced Taiwanese manufacture Foxconn would locate a plant in southeastern Wisconsin eventually creating 13,000 jobs for the state.

“The second daily train is projected to grow the market and provide greater reliability at conventional speed of 79 miles per hour,” Dan Krom, director of MnDOT’s Passenger Rail Office, which is leading the planning efforts, said in a statement.

Representatives from WisDOT could not immediately be reached for comment.

The purpose and need statement did not address funding the project.

In 2010, Walker rejected a $810 million federal grant to the state which would have been used to extend the Hiawatha from Milwaukee to Madison. The 110-mile stretch would have eventually been part of a plan to connect Chicago to the Twin Cities.

The following year, the Federal Rail Road Administration denied Wisconsin in its application for $150 million for high-speed rail funding.

The first public information meetings for the TCMC project will be held Sept. 6 at the La Crosse County Administrative Center in Wisconsin, and Sept. 7, at St. Paul’s Union Depot. Both meetings will begin at 5 p.m.

The next steps for the proposed project are to evaluate the alternatives for the project and the necessary infrastructure upgrades.

A proposed Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago (TCMC) Intercity Passenger Rail Service project that would connect Chicago to Minneapolis, by way of Milwaukee, took another step forward last week.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation released its “purpose and need statement” for the project, marking the beginning of the public involvement and environmental study portion of the proposal to add an Amtrak line across the state of Wisconsin.

TCMC proposed route.

The TCMC corridor already exists. It is a 418-mile rail corridor connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul, Milwaukee and Chicago and providing service to smaller cities including La Crosse, Tomah, Wisconsin Dells and Portage.

It is currently served by Amtrak’s long-distance Empire Builder service that operates between Chicago and Seattle and Portland, which provides one trip per day in each direction, with several stops in Wisconsin.

Amtrak also has operated the Hiawatha Service since 1989 and currently serves stations at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station, Mitchell International Airport and Sturtevant and Glenview and Chicago in Illinois. In 2016, ridership was 815,196, according to the purpose and need statement.

TCMC Intercity Passenger Rail Service would add a second, shorter-distance train along the route between union Depot in Saint Paul and Union Station in Chicago, making two stops in Milwaukee, downtown and at the airport.

A 2015 feasibility report conducted by MnDOT and the Wisconsin DOT found the corridor could support an additional train based on expected population increases and economic growth projected within the corridor.

Last week, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker announced Taiwanese manufacture Foxconn would locate a plant in southeastern Wisconsin eventually creating 13,000 jobs for the state.

“The second daily train is projected to grow the market and provide greater reliability at conventional speed of 79 miles per hour,” Dan Krom, director of MnDOT’s Passenger Rail Office, which is leading the planning efforts, said in a statement.

Representatives from WisDOT could not immediately be reached for comment.

The purpose and need statement did not address funding the project.

In 2010, Walker rejected a $810 million federal grant to the state which would have been used to extend the Hiawatha from Milwaukee to Madison. The 110-mile stretch would have eventually been part of a plan to connect Chicago to the Twin Cities.

The following year, the Federal Rail Road Administration denied Wisconsin in its application for $150 million for high-speed rail funding.

The first public information meetings for the TCMC project will be held Sept. 6 at the La Crosse County Administrative Center in Wisconsin, and Sept. 7, at St. Paul’s Union Depot. Both meetings will begin at 5 p.m.

The next steps for the proposed project are to evaluate the alternatives for the project and the necessary infrastructure upgrades.

Comments

  1. John says:

    Disappointed that proposals only provide for continued use of SLOW speed trains on SHARED tracks…But welcome the thought of another train.. Currently the single day mke->minn train is scheduled to arrive at 10PM minn time without delays…

    I believe that true high speed rail should be a greater part of our transportation infrastructure. But need to abandon the concept of cross country routes… The niche is in the regional market… Chi->mke->minn, Chi->Stl -> KC, KC->OKC-Dal, DC-> Phil-NY-BOS as way of connecting people to other transportation hubs for long distance (airlines). Modeling a system after Europe and Japan to provide true high speed on DEDICATED tracks would be one of THE most efficient means of transporting people at these distances…

  2. Kevin says:

    With and average speed of only 79mph, and the likelihood that within 5 years people will be able to purchase nearly fully or fully autonomous cars, this service, if implemented, will be dead in a decade. There will be no service or financial reason to take it.

    • MST says:

      You are probably wrong about this tech being available to the Midwest in 5 years.

      Self-driving cars are currently being tested in non-winter conditions. Something as simple as dirt / salt in a road could render the tech useless, let alone handling in icy conditions. So none of the major companies have expressed any interest in testing their vehicles in winter conditions yet.

      Uber and Lyft are still new to most of the Midwest. Cutting edge transportation tech does not permeate to the Midwest nearly as fast as it should. Sepf-driving cars will be no exception.

  3. Michael says:

    If this train route and extra train were to be implemented, would it experience the same delays that constantly plague the Amtrak route that goes through Minneapolis to Chicago? If so, I most likely wouldn’t consider taking it unless the price is very affordable. I can find flights to Chicago from Minneapolis for $100-120 for a weekend trip, same price range for the current train.

    • Jon Parker says:

      Most likely the train would have better on time performance as the current train often experiences delays due to the western part of the line. If the train starts in Minneapolis, it probably has a good chance of at least starting the trip on time.

  4. Dan says:

    Based on your comments above you are missing the subtle differences in the 810M plan that would only go to Madison and this plan which will truly serve a purpose and connect three major economic hubs. We need to stop being so short sided and selfish. The 810M project was not going to be free. We all pay for it every day in our federal taxes. The plan to expand to Madison also included a number of stops in small cities, which defeated the purpose of a high speed rail. The current proposal is not for a high speed rail and that is a problem. I have traveled on high speed rail (100+ miles per hour) in France and Belgium. We need to start thinking this way and modernize our public transportation infrastructure.

    • Jim Spice says:

      “The 810M project was not going to be free. We all pay for it every day in our federal taxes.”
      The money was spent anyway, but elsewhere. We still paid for it through taxes, but now have nothing to show for it.

  5. Stephen says:

    Did anyone commenting here actually read the article? The rail line already exists and is running service once a day. The proposal is to add an additional train so that there are two trips per day (the additional trip only going from Chicago to Minneapolis instead of the longer route the existing train travels). The article does not state who and/or how it will be paid for.

    And for Derek, the rail line that connects Chicago to Madison already exists for freight trains, the Federal Grant Walker turned down was to refurbish the rail line and make it acceptable for high-speed passenger rail service as well.

    People, please do some research and educate yourselves.

    • Derek says:

      It’s never as simple as just adding an extra train, and no it doesn’t say who is going to fund it. But the extra train has to be purchased somehow. The operational costs have to be covered somehow. And while Amtrak is run by the federal government the states pick up a lot of the costs for running the trains in their states. And even in MnDOT picks up the tab Wisconsin would have to be involved somehow. It doesn’t take much forethought at all to know that Walker won’t support it or spend any money on it. The road builders contribute too much to his campaign for him to support this, regardless how the HSR project went. We’ve all gotten an education in how Walker operates over the past seven years.

  6. John Shannon says:

    An Intercity Passenger Rail Service connecting the information centers of the midwest, namely, Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, Rochester, and Minneapolis-St Paul, makes great sense. I support it completely. The route suggested in the article, including Columbus (WI), Portage, Tomah, Winona, and Red Wing, makes no sense whatsoever. Connect the research and developments centers, and we have a network rivaling the east or west coasts. That’s exciting, positive, necessary. However, the proposed route connects pan fish and fudge shops. A waste of money, time, and opportunity.

    • Derek says:

      Well, you can’t just put a rail corridor wherever you want. Buying the land, permitting, design, etc., etc., etc. would be prohibitively expensive. And this really doesn’t have anything to do with Wisconsin. Minnesota has been looking to implement a greater rail connection to Chicago for some time. We just happen to be in between them. There was even a plan for them to build a high speed line down to Iowa and then over to Chicago after Walker cancelled the project in 2010.

    • Gail says:

      Please read the article again… “TCMC Intercity Passenger Rail Service would add a second, shorter-distance train along the route between union Depot in Saint Paul and Union Station in Chicago, making two stops in Milwaukee, downtown and at the airport.”. You are confused with the fact that the map is showing the current AMTRAK route. The new train would only connect Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul.

      • David says:

        Gail, you are confused by the article stating that the train will only stop at Milwaukee. It will run on the same route as the current train. “Shorter distance” refers to the fact that it won’t go all the way to Seattle and Portland. I think skipping all the stops in WI is a bad idea, but if MN is footing the bill and WI is contributing nothing I guess MN can make that decision.

  7. Walker’s complaint claimed the service would cost Wisconsin $7 million a year to operate which is chicken feed to the 800+ million the federal government was dangling in our faces. He has no common sense so I don’t see this proposal moving forward unless it’s for more roads.

    • Derek says:

      I don’t see this going anywhere either. Unless MnDOT pays for all of the design and construction. Wisconsin certainly won’t help. If Walker didn’t want to take federal money for 110-mile service why would he support spending a ton of state money on 79-mile service? And it would have connected Madison as well, to John’s point above. If it hadn’t been for Walker’s shortsightedness we could riding this train today instead of just starting the planning.