Group Eyes Eau Claire-St. Paul Rail Service

A group of western Wisconsin residents is seeking to bring back intercity rail passenger service to Eau Claire, which has not seen a passenger train in 52 years.

The West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition was formed in 1999 and is seeking to convince transportation officials in Wisconsin and Minnesota to develop an Eau Claire-Menomonie-Hudson rail passenger corridor.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has been studying development of rail passenger routes from the Twin Cities to Duluth, Rochester and Eau Claire.

WisconsinThe Wisconsin Department of Transportation has been focusing more on improving the Amtrak Hiawatha Service between Milwaukee and Chicago, but has also collaborated with Minnesota officials in seeking to develop addition intercity rail passenger service between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

The West Central group hopes to persuade transportation officials to route trains through Eau Claire via a Union Pacific route that once  hosted the famed Chicago & North Western 400 trains between Chicago and Minneapolis/St. Paul that ran 400 miles in 400 minutes.

They have pointed to information from MnDOT showing that more than 100,000 vehicles cross the St. Croix River at Hudson every day with many of those drivers coming from the St. Croix and Chippewa valleys.

MnDOT has estimated that rail service could attract 1,000 to 1,400 passengers a day, which would be 5 percent of the travel market and potentially enough to cover the daily operating cost of rail service.

The West Central group believes that there is a market for four daily roundtrips between Eau Claire and St. Paul. Fares would range between $25 to $40. With an 80-mph speed limit, trains could cover the distance in an hour and 15 minutes.

A public-private partnership might be needed to make the service a reality.

The West Central group formed an organizing council last year that will explore financing options as well as capital needs to rebuild the track between Eau Claire and the Twin Cities.

The service would not necessarily be provided by Amtrak. The West Central group pointed to the public-private partner behind All Aboard Florida and noted that Iowa Pacific Holdings took over from Amtrak the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State.

To learn more about the coalition, go to http://www.westwisconsinrail.org, or http://www.facebook.com/westcentralwisconsinrail, or twitter.com/WestWisRail

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