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Congress gives Wisconsin $3.4 billion for high-speed rail expansion

Wisconsin could have more high-speed rail service within three years.

That's what Frank Busalacchi, secretary of the Wisconsin transportation department, said after Congress voted last week to give $3.4 billion in grants for new Amtrak corridors.

There's already high-speed Amtrak service from Milwaukee to Chicago.

State officials have tried for years to extend it from Milwaukee to Green Bay, and from Milwaukee to Madison and then to Minnesota's Twin Cities.

The new funding passed with veto-proof majorities on Capitol Hill and President Bush has said he will sign it.

Busalacchi says there will be fierce competition for the Amtrak grants but he says Wisconsin should be near the top of the list.

The tracks are already in. Federal officials have given the necessary environmental approvals and the state has agreed to spend up to $80 million as its share of the work.

Former Gov. Tommy Thompson was a booster of Midwest rail growth when he chaired the Amtrak board. However, in the last decade, major service expansions have largely fall on deaf ears in Congress.

Now, though, with high gas prices and the economy the way they are, Busalacchi says there's more urgency to create what he calls a "world class mass transit system in this country."