Wisconsin DOT Tells Hiawatha Expansion Plans

Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee is expected to increase in the next five years, Wisconsin transportation officials said this week.

Speaking at a news conference at the Milwaukee Amtrak station, Arun Rao, manager of passenger rail for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, said the plans call for one additional roundtrip in the next three years following by two more in the two years after that.

Amtrak currently operates seven Hiawatha roundtrips, all of which are funded by Wisconsin and the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The corridor also hosts the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Funding for the expansion comes from an increase in spending on Amtrak service approved this year by the Wisconsin legislature.

WisDOT Secretary Craig Thompson said the 2019-21 budget includes $10 million in bonding and $25 million in segregated funding for Amtrak Hiawatha services.

“This funding enables us in the department to qualify for federal funds to improve passenger rail service, providing mobility and transportation choices between Milwaukee and Chicago for both business and leisure,” Thompson said.

Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Association of Commerce, said at the news conference that the Hiawatha Service helps the city’s economy.

“We’re part of Chicago’s mega-region, which is one of the 10 largest economic regions in the country, and to put it simply: Commerce is about connections,” he said.

Amtrak ridership statistics showed that the Hiawathas carried more than 858,000 passengers in 2018.

Officials expect ridership to increase by 5.6 percent in 2019.

Joel Brennan, state Department of Administration secretary, said a recent survey found that 40 percent of trips Hiawatha passengers were traveling for business or work related purposes that 60 percent of their trips were same-day round trips.

Infrastructure spending for the Hiawatha corridor includes adding a second platform at the Milwaukee Mitchell Airport Rail Station, which is expected to cost $10 million.

Another $5 million is projected to be spend for new traffic control equipment at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station .

New passenger cars will cost $39 million. Amtrak is seeking a federal grant to help pay for those.

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