Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak in Wisconsin’

Freight Bypass Might Benefit Amtrak in Milwaukee

March 6, 2020

A proposal to build a freight railroad bypass route in Milwaukee may benefit Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service route.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation recently received a $26.6 million grant from the Federal Railroad Administration that will be applied toward creating of the bypass.

WisDOT officials say moving Canadian Pacific freight trains to the route could create a faster flow of Amtrak traffic by diverting them from passing through the downtown Milwaukee station.

The double-track bypass would extend to Menomonee Valley’s Muskego yard and give CP the option of routing trains through the yard instead of through the Amtrak station.

CP trains could also be held in the yard rather than holding on the mainline tracks used by Amtrak.

The bypass project is expected to cost $55 million.

State officials also say the bypass could be a key to increasing the frequency of service on the Hiawatha route from seven to eight.

Wisconsin would like to see Hiawatha service eventually increase to 10 daily roundtrips.

The eighth Hiawatha roundtrip won’t start until WisDOT, CP, Chicago rail commuter agency Metra and the Illinois Department of Transportation finish work on studies of the expansion, including an environmental impact statement.

WisDOT last year received a $2.69 million grant to pay for upgrading the signal system on two miles of track at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station.

The route hosts 20 freight trains and 16 passenger trains including Hiawatha Service and the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

The improved signal system is expected to increase train speeds in the affected area.

Wisconsin OK’s Funding for New Passenger Equipment

November 5, 2019

A Wisconsin legislative committee has approved added funding for additional equipment for Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee.

A budget committee approved $13.2 million to match a $25.7-million Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair grant the state had received earlier this year.

The money will be used to purchase six coaches and three cab coaches that will be built by Siemens at its plant in Sacramento, California.

This equipment is an add on to an order for 137 cars in production that will be assigned to corridor trains in the Midwest and California.

Wisconsin Passenger Rail Manager Arun Rao said the cab cars have 58 to 62 revenue seats and will replace converted locomotive cabs that have no revenue seating.

The new equipment is expected to arrive in about three years and enable Amtrak to create a third train set for use in the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor.

That equipment is expected to allow for an expansion of Hiawatha Service, although one of the host railroads in the corridor, Canadian Pacific, has said it won’t approve additional Amtrak service until capacity expansion projects are undertaken.

The latter has triggered fierce opposition in north suburban Chicago, particularly the plan to build a holding siding for CP freight trains waiting to get onto the Union Pacific, which CP uses to reach its yard in Bensonville, Illinois.

Wisconsin had planned to buy new Talgo Series 8 equipment for Amtrak service, but that equipment has yet to enter revenue service.

The Talgos are sitting at Amtrak’s Beech Grove shops in Indianapolis.

Amtrak currently operates seven weekend Hiawatha Service roundtrips using Horizon and Amfleet equipment.

Wisconsin DOT Tells Hiawatha Expansion Plans

July 18, 2019

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.

Supporters of New Train Look to Next Year

July 9, 2019

Supporters of a second Amtrak train between Chicago and Twin Cities are taking a “wait ‘til next year” approach after failing this year to win state funding for development of the service.

The Minnesota legislature did not approve a request from the Minnesota Department of Transportation to pay for more environmental and design work and service planning.

“We’re kind of on life support for right now from our perspective, but we’re keeping the project moving forward,” said Dan Krom, director of MnDOT’s Passenger Rail Office.

However, in Wisconsin the legislature did OK $300,000 to fund environmental work related to the project.

The proposed service would supplement the existing Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder that currently operates between Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota.

Supporters of the second train say the Empire Builder is delay prone, particularly headed eastbound.

“I think we finally got some momentum this legislative session,” said Mark Vaughan, chairman of the Great River Rail Commission, a group of local government officials in Minnesota and Wisconsin that supports efforts to add a second train.

Getting the second train started is projected to cost between $130 million and $140 million.

An Amtrak feasibility concluded that the service could attract 155,000 passengers annually, in addition to the existing 123,000 passengers riding the Empire Builder.

“You’d be providing an option for folks who don’t want to fly or drive, or can’t drive anymore or choose not to drive,” Krom said.

“A lot of people from Red Wing, Winona, La Crosse, Tomah, the Dells are getting on and off,” he said. “It’s providing access for people for those markets in between where there aren’t many options to fly.”

Committee OKs Added Hiawatha Funding

June 11, 2019

A Wisconsin budget committee has approved a $35 million expansion of Amtrak service between Chicago and Milwaukee.

However, the committee turned thumbs down on a proposal by Gov. Tony Evers to spend $10 million to develop service between Chicago and the Twin Cities of Minnesota to supplement the daily Empire Builder.

The expansion of the Hiawatha Service would increase service from seven daily roundtrips to 10.

Terry Brown of the Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers said the prospects for funding of the Chicago-Twin Cities train will depend on how much resistance Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Democratic lawmakers put up to Republican lawmakers’ state budget proposals.

Republicans control the Wisconsin legislature.

Wisconsin Committee Mulling Rail Funding Increase

June 6, 2019

A Wisconsin legislative commission is posed to vote on a request by the governor to spend $45 million more to increase Amtrak service.

Gov. Tony Evers has proposed the additional funding to be used to pay for three more daily roundtrips of the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service and another train that would operate between Chicago and the Twin Cities of Minnesota.

The funding request is before the budget committee, which is considering several requests from Evers, including some pertaining to highway funding.

Wisconsin currently funds seven Hiawatha roundtrips. Service between Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota, is provided by the Empire Builder, a long-distance train operating between Chicago and Seattle/Portland, Oregon.

Wisconsin rail advocates have long desired another train to supplement the Empire Builder, which they say is prone to delays, particularly eastbound.

A spokesperson for the Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers has said some Hiawatha Service trains are now standing room only during peak travel periods.

WisARP said it would be less expensive to add more trains than to attach an additional rail car or two to existing trains, because during slow periods those extra cars would be empty but still heavy.

Arun Rao of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation said his agency is talking with its counterparts in the Illinois Department of Transportation and the host railroads of Hiawatha Service about how to expand capacity in the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor.

A proposal to add passing sidings in north suburban Chicago drew fierce opposition and IDOT recently said it would no longer support creation of sidings to enable freight trains to get out of the way of Amtrak and Metra trains.

“We would also be looking at incremental improvements. If we did a smaller subset of infrastructure, could we move up to an eighth round trip, and then ninth, and then tenth?” Rao said.

The funding for the proposed additional Chicago-Twin Cities train is needed to qualify for federal grants to help pay to develop the service.

WisDOT said that train could be operating within three to four years.

The committee considering the governor’s requests is controlled by Republican legislators whereas Evers is a Democrat.

There have already been conflicts in the legislature over other transportation spending as well as the overall state budget.

2nd Chicago-Twin Cities Trains Hinges on Funding

April 5, 2019

The rail manager of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation sounded an upbeat note about the prospects of launching a second Amtrak train in the Chicago-Twin Cities corridor, but cautioned that it still hinges on whether the Wisconsin legislature appropriates the money to pay for it.

Arun Rao spoke at a meeting in Portage, Wisconsin, called by the Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers.

He said the Federal Railroad Administration has granted WisDOT an exemption for completing the second phase of an environmental study after deciding the state had done enough already.

“This is very good news because it saves a lot of time and money,” Brown said. “It shortens the timeline, but the state budget is still the main thing to watch right now.”

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers is seeking $45 million for passenger rail, although his proposal does not specify how much, if any, of that funding would be used for the Chicago-Twin Cities train.

Amtrak currently serves the route west of Milwaukee with the daily Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

South of Milwaukee Amtrak operates seven daily Hiawatha Service roundtrips, which are funded in part by Wisconsin.

“What we’ve heard, unofficially, is that some of the money would be used for the [Chicago-Twin Cities]train, but we’ll have to wait and see,” said Terry Brown of WisARP.

WisARP has estimated that it will take $10 million to complete preliminary studies being conducted jointly by WisDOT and the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Advocates of the train have argued that it would provide more reliable service than the Empire Builder, which is subject to delays.

The final design work for the Chicago-Twin Cities train has not yet been completed so such issues as capacity, equipment and scheduling are pending.

An earlier Amtrak study of the route concluded that a second Chicago-Twin Cities train would handle 155,000 passengers annually.

The route between Milwaukee and the Twin Cities has not had multiple daily train frequencies since the Chicago-Duluth, Minnesota, North Star, was discontinued between Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota, on Oct. 25, 1981.

WisARP Seeks Support for Another Amtrak Train

February 22, 2019

The Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers recently held town hall meetings in an effort to drum up support for a second Amtrak daily train between Chicago and Twin Cities.

West of Milwaukee Amtrak’s only service is the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Wisconsin passenger rail supporters have said a second train is needed to provide more reliable service.

The westbound Empire Builder is usually on time when it reaches Milwaukee, but its eastbound counterpart is often late, sometimes by hours when it arrives in the dairy state.

WisARP Presdient Terry Brown said that makes it difficult for passengers traveling from the central and western parts of the state.

“Its schedule has become crazy,” Brown said. “It is unreliable, it is chronically late.  But it’s not late in a predictable pattern.”

The group favors a second train that would be scheduled to reach Milwaukee in mid-morning westbound and during the evening hours eastbound.

The departments of transportation of Wisconsin and Minnesota have studied supporting a second Chicago-Twin Cities train, but not commitments to fund it have been made.

The town hall meetings were held in Tomah and Portage.

Portage Platform Being Repaved

June 1, 2018

Canadian Pacific is resurfacing the Amtrak boarding platform in Portage, Wisconsin, which will affect boarding of the Empire Builder in that city.

As part of the project, which extends through June 30, workers will also be conducting tie work on the adjacent tracks.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said passengers will need to exit the station shelter and walk to the far east end of the platform to board their train.

Passengers are also urged to use caution when walking and driving in this area as portions of it are active construction zones.

Hiawatha Expansion Price Tag Set at $195M

February 14, 2018

The price of expanding Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee has been put at $195 million by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

A WisDOT official told the Milwaukee Public Transportation Review Board that is how much adding three roundtrips to the route would cost.

The board is pushing for expanded service in order to serve Foxconn Technology Group’s planned Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin, facility, which could employ up to 13,000 people. The facility is being built near a Hiawatha station in Sturtevant, Wisconsin.

Arun Rao, WisDOT’s passenger rail manager, said the $195 million figure includes $10 million for a second platform at Milwaukee’s Mitchell Airport station and $49 million for two projects at or near downtown’s Milwaukee Intermodal Station.

Amtrak currently operates seven roundtrips between Chicago and Milwaukee with much of the funding coming from grants provided by WisDOT and the Illinois Department of Transportation.

In fiscal year 2017, Hiawatha Service trains carried more than 829,000 passengers. Studies have projected that adding additional trains would boost ridership past 1 million.