Choo Choo… Woo Hoo… The MSN to MKE “high” speed train is coming

I was excited to hear that funds for “high speed rail” under the Stimulus plan were won by the State of Wisconsin.  According to The Business Journal, WI’s application was one of 13 approved for $8 billion under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  The 13 approved lines will impact rail transportation in 31 states according to the WPTV.  There were a total of $55 billion in requests.  WI is expected to be awarded $810 million for the 85 mile rail corridor connecting Milwaukee and Madison with stops in Brookfield, Oconomowoc and Watertown; for improvements in the Milwaukee to Chicago corridor and for initial planning for the Madison – Minneapolis corridor.

The Madison station is likely to be located at the Dane County Regional Airport, a somewhat controversial location given its lack of pedestrian access or readily available low cost public transit options at this time.  This is a far cry from the beautiful new Milwaukee Intermodal station located downtown.

The start date for service is somewhat confusing, given the report from The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel announcing that rail service could be operational by 2013, while The Wisconsin State Journal states that “the 110 mph service to Madison could take until 2016, according to the state’s October request for the money from the Federal Railroad Administration.”  It could be that the discrepancy has to do with high speed rail given that “standard” rail service could begin earlier then the time when the tracks are improved to “high” speed status.

Kudos to Governor Doyle, the WI Congressional delegation, the WIDOT and all those who have worked tirelessly to bring a rail connection between Madison and Milwaukee.

Beyond WI, the big winner among the states is FL, where President Obama and VP Biden are scheduled to make an announcement about the construction of a  high speed rail line that will be built between Orlando and Tampa.  Meanwhile, Illinois will receive $1.2 billion that will be used to improve rail service between Chicago and St. Louis, cutting the travel time by 80 minutes according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

Here’s a history of the state’s recent efforts to get high speed rail connections on this corridor:

  • 7/17/09 – Governor Doyle announces the purchase of two sets of trains (14 cars each) from Patentes Talgo, a Spanish train manufacturer, that plans to assemble the trains in Wisconsin
  • 8/13/09 – The Federal Railroad Administration issues of an environmental assessment indicating a Finding of No Significant Impact
  • 10/2/09 – WIDOT submits a an application to the Federal Railroad Administration fro American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (stimulus) funding.
  • 1/28/09 – WI awarded $810  million for high speed rail service development between Milwaukee and Madison, with rail bed improvements on the Hiawatha line between Milwaukee and Chicago and planning funds for the Madison to Minneapolis corridor.

If you are interested in High Speed Rail, you can follow the Midwest High Speed Rail Association on Twitter @HSRail

Now if we could only get funding for real high speed train service in high density population corridors around the United States like the AVE in Spain (236 km/hr), TGVat in France (272 km/hr) or China’s rail service (313 km/hr).  Source Wikipedia.

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13 thoughts on “Choo Choo… Woo Hoo… The MSN to MKE “high” speed train is coming

  1. Have they done a study about what they expect ridership to be? I can see people using it a few times a year for special events, but I am more curious about regular ridership. And aside from saving gas $, how much time would it save? I do think the airport stop in Madison is a terrible location because from there everyone will need a bus or a cab. People are only going to use mass transit if it is convenient and inexpensive.

    There are probably much better ways to spend $800+ million right now though. Because after that initial money dries up, WI is left holding the bag to fund both the highway system and the new rail system, which is sure to be a money pit.

  2. Can’t wait to take twice as long to get to Madison then it takes me to drive. One thing is certain, there will always be an empty seat available. Even during peak travel times.

    BTW, one thing that sets Europe’s trains apart is that the tracks were designed with zero grade crossings. Something we can’t afford to redo here. Especially since we’re technically still paying for the Marshall Plan.

  3. GREAT….. The fed will help build it and the state gets to subsidize it FOREVER because it will hemorrhage money because of low ridership. Good thing THAT’S not a waste of taxpayer money. Why don’t they just give it to AIG instead.

  4. I travel to Milwaukee about once a week. If the service and local connections are convenient the train service would certainly be in my decision set. I also like to travel outside of the state and would readily consider flying out of Mitchell Field as an alternative to Madison, if I could make easy train connections between Madison and Milwaukee. I also would welcome the opportunity to take the Madison to Chicago train for events in Chicago or to visit my friends in Chicago. I would much prefer going by train to driving to and in Chicago.

    Anything that connects Milwaukee and Madison more closely is a win-win for the state. If the Medical College of Wisconsin researchers interact more with the UWMadison researchers we’ll see some positive results.

    In terms of subsidies, the state subsidizes the roads that you travel on every day Silent E. How is a train system different then this? Once you experience the European High Speed Rail, you see what we really should have here. If we hadn’t wasted all the money we did in Bush’s useless Iraq war, we might have seen this type of investment in the U.S., where high speed rail would become more competitive with driving.

    1. I agree that it would work on point to point travel, like going to Mitchell or a Brewers game, or downtown/UW on the Madison end. But in many cases, people intend to visit multiple locations, somewhere other than downtown, or someone’s house. In those cases the convenience factor dramatically reduces.

      In terms of subsidies for roads, the state transportation fund is funded by the gas tax, except when Doyle robs that fund for other uses. You can call that a user fee or a tax, but not a subsidy. The people who drive pay for the roads, as it should be. If the intention here is to make fares cover the cost of the rail system, then I am all for it.

      There are a number of reasons why rail won’t/can’t be more competitive with driving. What happens when nobody rides this thing?

      And it always comes down to the Iraq war doesn’t it? Wow liberals would have used that money to pay for that MN bridge collapse, pay for health care, education, everything else, and now a rail project. That money has been theoretically been spent 10x over. However, the other complaint was that the money spent in Iraq was money that we don’t have. So to follow the logic of the folks who use both arguments whenever convenient, liberals would have spent money we don’t have on all those other uses.

    2. In terms of subsidies, the state subsidizes the roads that you travel on every day Silent E. How is a train system different then this?

      I think the answer to that is pretty self-evident. The roads he (we all) travel every day. Subsidizing highly traveled roads is completely different than empty trains.

      Once you experience the European High Speed Rail, you see what we really should have here.

      Europe ≠ America. The geography, population density and transportation culture is completely different. Even if you can change the latter two, good luck changing the first.

      The bottom line, it has to be about cost/benefit. I have no problem with trains – I’ve ridden L in Chicago, the Subway in NY and they’re a very good solution. But it’s all about cost/benefit. Where it’s appropriate, great. In most cases, in the US, it a sinkhole. The per ride expenses are obscene. Ultimately, there needs to be total transparency in releasing that figure: what are the per rider costs?

  5. If I don’t have to take my shoes off, or have my underwear scanned, or be at the terminal 2 hours in advance then I support high speed trains.

    Trains are like rivers. Good commerce and industry develop alongside of both. But we can plan trains…

    1. Do you have examples of development growth after a train was put in place?

      You can be assured there would need to be a level of security involved, but hopefully not a 2hr wait.

  6. It would be great if the train stopped at the Milwaukee airport. I’ve been bypassing MSN and flying out of Milwaukee to avoid a MSN-MKE connection flight.

  7. Madcityman…your timeline leaves out the ridership study done by the Doyle Administration. Can’t imagine we’d spend almost a billion dollars on an endeavor without having a clue as to how many people will use it.

    As for the subsidies for roads vs. rail aspect of this conversation, forgotmyscreenname answered that effectively.

    In a sane world, the process would go:
    1) Identify a problem.
    2) Measure public opinion on the problem, decide whether to proceed.
    3) Study the problem.
    4) Research ideas to solve or at least ease the problem.
    5) Measure and build public support for your solution(s).
    6) Secure funding for your solution(s).
    7) Implement your solution(s).
    8) Measure the impact on the problem of the actions taken.
    9) Continuously re-evaluate effectiveness and necessity of continued action.

    Doyle has skipped to step 6, or maybe went to 7, then 6. By the time he slithers out of office, he won’t be around for steps 8 & 9. Heck…the way public projects like this go, we’d be lucky if anyone ever bothers with 8 & 9.

    Trains are neat…I’ve ridden on several, here and abroad. That doesn’t mean we have good public policy in the works here. Seems like an awful lot of bother so Diamond Jim can satisfy his ego with some kind of legacy. Can’t we just slap a plaque with Doyle’s name on the world’s most lavish highway rest area and be done with it?

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