Group wants western Wisconsin onboard for high-speed rail plan
Surging gas prices and an aging freeway system in need of expansion are two reasons why the West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition believes the time is now to plan for high speed passenger rail service.
The group is made up of business leaders from the Chippewa Valley area and they will in Hudson on August 16 at 7:30 a.m. in the Hudson City Hall.
"We want to get business leaders from Hudson, Baldwin, Roberts and Hammond to come to the meeting and see what we have to offer," said Ray Willoughby, the group's co-chair.
During the meeting Willoughby says the group will show business leaders where the rail plan is and where they hope to go with it.
Willoughby says the group wants communities to have plans in place so that when federal funding for the rail service comes through they can go to work on the project.
He pointed out that the city of Eau Claire already has plans in place and that Menomonie is not far behind.
"In Eau Claire we know where the depot will be, where the crossings will be and where the rail route is," he said.
The main plan the group is looking at is a regional plan to bring high speed passenger rail service in trains traveling up to 110 mph from Chicago to Milwaukee and then on to Madison and then to the Twin Cities.
Willoughby noted that the group is already working with Minnesota counterparts to take the line directly into St. Paul. They are also looking at commuter rail service in the western Wisconsin area.
According to state transportation officials, the plan for high-speed passenger rail service is progressing and they point out the success of the Hiawatha Line between Milwaukee and Chicago.
The plan to bring it to Madison is progressing according to Randy Wade, the passenger rail manager for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
Wade says that a corridor has already been purchased between Milwaukee and Watertown and then to Madison.
"It all depends on federal funding," Wade said. "A bill that would authorize $1.4 billion in funding to states over six years for passenger rail will be voted on in the Senate after Labor Day."
He added that the bill (S-1516) would only authorize appropriations of the funds, not actually appropriate the funds.
However he is very optimistic about the future of high-speed passenger rail.
"We believe that in the market environment we are currently in, rail service will become a very attractive option," Wade said.
The current state plan is to take rail service from Madison to La Crosse and then to the Twin Cities on the Minnesota side of the Mississippi River. The route would include a stop in Red Wing, Minn.
The reasons for using the La Crosse route instead of following I-94 through Eau Claire to the Twin Cities is that they could use existing rail lines and because Minnesota would be paying more of the costs.
Wade says the cost of running the rail from Milwaukee to La Crosse would be $565 million with the state paying $113 million of that total.
Despite the plan to run the line through La Crosse, Wade says Eau Claire, Menomonie and Hudson wouldn't be left out.
"Once we can demonstrate that passenger rail is viable in Wisconsin getting a line added that goes from Madison to Eau Claire and onto the Twin Cities will be easy," Wade said.
He added that Frank Busalacchi, the WisDOT secretary, is the current chairman of the States for Passenger Rail Coalition (www.s4prc.org) and has been working hard to get federal funds similar to federal highway funds implemented annually into the federal budget.
More information about passenger rail service in Wisconsin is available on WisDOT's Web site at www.dot.wisconsin.gov
Brady Bautch is the Internet Publisher for the RiverTown Newspaper Group. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org