Doyle says: high-speed rail project is ‘ready to go’

Since the state has already completed extensive planning work, the Milwaukee-to-Madison high-speed rail project is “ready to go,” Gov. Jim Doyle said. Construction for the project will begin this year and is expected to be completed by 2013

The trains will eventually be able to reach top speeds of 110 mph (in 2016), but the service will initially have trains traveling up to 79 mph.

The state received $810 million in federal stimulus funds from the White House for the project. The funds were part of an $8 billion federal spending package for high speed rail projects.

Wisconsin’s extensive preparations for the project will allow construction to begin soon, and it should be the first new rail service project completed of those receiving the funding from the White House, Doyle said.

“This is a major project that will create thousands of jobs in Wisconsin and invest in our long-term growth, connecting major centers of commerce in Wisconsin and the Midwest,” Doyle said.

The project plans include stops in Brookfield, Oconomowoc and Watertown.

A final decision has not been made about the station in Madison.

The Madison station will be at the Dane County Regional Airport on the city’s northeast side, Doyle said. However, some Madison officials are lobbying for a different location for the Madison station, closer to the city’s downtown.

Wherever the Madison station is located, Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said the city will provide buses to connect travelers from the Milwaukee area to the city’s major destinations. In the future, a commuter rail service could be established to bring train riders to downtown Madison, he said.

In Milwaukee, the proposed downtown streetcar would help connect train travelers to downtown destinations, Mayor Tom Barrett said.

The trains for the Wisconsin high-speed rail service are expected to be built in Wisconsin, and Doyle said Wisconsin is “poised to be the nation’s leader” in high-speed rail manufacturing. Last year, the state agreed to purchase two, 14-car train sets from Spanish train manufacturer Talgo Inc. The company plans to build the trains in Wisconsin, but has not yet announced where they will be built. The manufacturing facility will support the delivery of Talgo trains throughout the country.

As part of the federal high-speed rail grant to Wisconsin, the state will purchase two more train sets, which will be built and maintained in Wisconsin, and eight new locomotives, which will be built in the U.S., and possibly Wisconsin.

The Milwaukee-to-Madison high-speed rail service is part of long-range plan to have a high-speed rail line from Chicago to the Twin Cities. As part of that project, the White House also provided $12 million to improve the Milwaukee-to-Chicago rail corridor and $1 million to study the extension of high speed rail service between Madison and the Twin Cities.

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, who is running as a Republican candidate for governor, said he is concerned that the high-speed rail project will result in increased operational costs for the state or local governments.

“The multi-million dollar question is what it will cost to operate this,” Walker said. “The federal government is putting up the money to build it, but if operation of the rail takes money away from the local road budget, that’s a red flag for us. Right now we have a significant hole in the transportation budget already, so anything that competes with that is a red flag. As a county we’ve already been dealt setbacks in terms of aid from the state even to manage our existing county roads, and municipal streets. I’ve said it repeatedly, it’s not a matter of liking or disliking the other options. We need to create a stable support for the existing work that needs to be done on our state’s roads, bridges and streets before we take on any new expenses.”

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Andrew Weiland
Andrew Weiland is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, Weiland is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, and son, Zachary. He is an avid sports fan and enjoys coaching his son’s youth baseball and basketball teams.