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.

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