Posts Tagged ‘Hiawatha’

Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service sets new annual ridership record in 2011

Monthly ridership records broken 11 times last year

For the first time in its history, Hiawatha Service ridership surpassed 800,000 in 2011. The year-end numbers put ridership at 823,163. According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT), that is a nearly four percent increase from 2010 when ridership totaled 792,848.


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Project Milwaukee: Regional Transportation Key to Future Success


We now continue our series, Project Milwaukee – Southern Connections. All week, we’re exploring the corridor extending from Milwaukee to Chicago. Economic development experts say regions will fare best in the new global economy. A key ingredient to a successful region is efficient transportation, and more people than ever before are traveling in the corridor between Milwaukee and Chicago. WUWM’s LaToya Dennis explores the options that exist today and what the future seems to demand.

It’s just past 5:30 on a Thursday afternoon, and Robin Toewe has just zipped into the Intermodal Station in downtown Milwaukee. Her train home – to Chicago- leaves in a few minutes.

“I was at a meeting with a client at the Public Market and I looked at my watch and I was like, sorry guys I gotta go,” Robin says.

Robin relies on Amtrak’s Hiawatha line to travel between Chicago and Milwaukee. She makes the 90-minute trip once a week.

“About three months ago, I was pulled into my boss’ office and he said, ‘So how would you feel about going to Milwaukee once a week?’ And I jumped on it,” Robin says.

She says it’s easy to spot the business travelers.

“People that immediately sit down, pull out their iPad or their laptop. And you overhear the phone conversations of ‘You know I’ll be to the office in such a such a time,’” Robin says.

Robin finds the train a convenient way to travel back and forth because it rarely runs late and allows time to work or sleep.


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Midwest states seek high-speed rail funding

Chicago Tribune

Hoping Florida’s loss is their gain, Illinois and neighboring states have applied for high-speed rail federal funding that became available after the Sunshine State’s governor scuttled plans for fast trains, officials said today.

If the Midwest states are successful in obtaining some of the $2.4 billion that Florida relinquished, the money would be used to buy new trains, accelerate plans to build track and signals for 110 mph passenger service and install railroad crossing upgrades on the Amtrak route between Chicago and St. Louis on the Union Pacific Railroad line, officials said.


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Hiawatha application faces competition

Business Journal

Wisconsin’s application for a federal grant to upgrade the Hiawatha passenger rail service is among $10 billion in applications filed by 24 states.

The grant applications far outweigh the $2.4 billion in high-speed rail grants the U.S. Department of Transportation has to distribute. The state of Wisconsin’s application is for $150 million to buy new trains that run the Amtrak Hiawatha line between Milwaukee and Chicago, upgrade the boarding area in the Milwaukee Intermodal Station, and build a train maintenance facility.


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Gov applying for $150M for Wis. train upgrades

Bloomberg Businessweek

Several months after rejecting federal funds to build high-speed rail across Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker is now asking for at least $150 million to add trains for an existing Milwaukee-to-Chicago line.

Walker said Tuesday the federal funds would be used to buy two train sets and eight locomotives as well as build a maintenance facility in Milwaukee.


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Scott Walker Now WANTS The High-Speed Rail Funds He Rejected In The First Place

Less than half a year after rejecting federal funds to build a high-speed rail connecting Milwaukee to Madison, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is now asking for at least $150 million from the feds to upgrade an existing Milwaukee-to-Chicago passenger line.

Wait, what?

Ironic, considering Walker had staked his political career on opposition to the Midwest High Speed Rail Initiative, even launching a campaign website towards his high-minded goal. In spite the $810 million that the federal government had offered the state, Walker had originally refused the project because he said it was a “a waste of taxpayer money.”

Now, Walker wants federal funds to buy two train sets and eight locomotives, build a maintenance facility in Milwaukee as well as renovate the train shed at the downtown Milwaukee Amtrak-Greyhound station for Amtrak’s Hiawatha line connecting Milwaukee-to-Chicago. Walker claims that the new upgrades will lower operating costs, reduce trip times from 90 minutes to one hour and increase ticket revenue. In a further twist, the money for the grant will actually come from the $2.4 billion in high-speed rail funds that Florida just rejected.

The shed that Walker plans to upgrade to make it comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act will account for about $30 million of the $150 million grant money, but it’s a project that would have actually been paid for had Walker just kept the $800 million the feds had originally given him.


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State seeks money for Hiawatha upgrade

$150 million is sought for Milwaukee-Chicago route


Less than four months after losing nearly all of an $810 million grant, Wisconsin is again seeking federal high-speed rail money – this time to upgrade the existing Milwaukee-to-Chicago passenger line.

Gov. Scott Walker’s administration announced Tuesday that the state will seek at least $150 million to add equipment and facilities for Amtrak’s Hiawatha line.

Walker said the money would be used to upgrade service on the Hiawatha line, as a step toward increasing the speed of the trains to nearly 110 mph and reducing the trip time from 90 minutes to one hour. If the improved service draws more riders, the number of round trips could be increased, he said during a news conference in the Milwaukee Intermodal Station.

The governor said he expected Illinois, Michigan and Missouri would join in the application for the federal dollars, part of the $8 billion rail element of President Barack Obama’s administration’s stimulus package.

In a bizarre twist, some of the money that Walker now seeks originally was allocated for the Milwaukee-to-Madison route he previously turned down. That money is available because a fellow Republican governor rejected it as well.

Walker said the money would allow Wisconsin to buy two more train sets and eight locomotives and to build a maintenance facility for that equipment and two train sets now under construction.

But speeding up the trains would require additional track improvements in future years, said Reggie Newson, executive assistant to state Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb.

The locomotives, train sets and maintenance base would have been covered by the earlier $810 million grant. But the maintenance base, originally envisioned as a $52 million facility in Madison, now would be a $60 million facility at the Talgo Inc. train plant in the Century City complex on Milwaukee’s north side.


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Get on board, governor

The Walker administration should not miss an April 4 deadline on an application for federal funds to upgrade Amtrak's Hiawatha line.


A deadline is fast approaching on an opportunity to improve rail transportation between Milwaukee and Chicago. It’s a deadline that Gov. Scott Walker’s administration should not miss.

At stake are $2.4 billion that became available when Florida rejected a high-speed rail grant. The deadline for applications for grants from that funding is a little over a week away: April 4.

Other states are applying; Wisconsin should be right in there with them. The money could be used to add trains, upgrade rail lines to accommodate higher speeds and improve stations.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has been making a hard push for the funding. As he told us this week, it would be a “huge missed opportunity” if Wisconsin did not apply. Especially as gasoline prices continue to climb toward $4 a gallon, the mayor added, it just makes sense to improve a major service for commuters and business. He’s right.


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Bureau lowers cost to run high-speed rail

JS Online

The state could pay several million dollars less than previously projected to run a planned high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison, based on revised information about the route’s likely revenue and expenses.

But any state or federal money spent on the train line might otherwise go to highways, says a new report obtained by the Journal Sentinel from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Operating costs have played a major role in Governor-elect Scott Walker’s opposition to the route, an extension of Amtrak’s existing Milwaukee-to-Chicago Hiawatha line. Although a federal stimulus grant would cover the $810 million construction cost, Walker has vowed to kill the project to ensure state taxpayers won’t pick up any operating costs.

Walker transition spokesman Cullen Werwie reiterated that stand Friday, saying, “The Madison-to-Milwaukee train is dead.”

In its application for the stimulus money, the state Department of Transportation set operating costs at $16.5 million a year, partly offset by $9 million a year in fare and concession revenue, leaving taxpayers to cover the remaining $7.5 million.

Those estimates, however, were developed in 2009. Since then, some aspects of the project have changed, including:

Ridership: The original estimate was based on projected first-year ridership of 361,400. But that prediction assumed the Madison station would be built at the Dane County Regional Airport. When state officials switched to a downtown site, they boosted the first-year ridership estimate to 476,400.

Consultants didn’t revise their revenue projection to match the ridership projection before outgoing Gov. Jim Doyle froze the project, in the wake of Walker’s election.

But the original estimate of $8.9 million in ticket revenue comes out to an average fare of $24.73. Using that average, the higher ridership projection would boost revenue by $2.8 million, slicing taxpayer support to $4.7 million.

Rising ridership on the Hiawatha has already cut taxpayer support for that line to $5.2 million in the 2009-’10 fiscal year, down from a projected $5.6 million, the Transportation Department says.

Food service: Consultants estimated revenue from food and beverage sales at $110,000 a year, assuming the same kind of snack cart service that now operates on the Hiawatha. Since then, however, state officials have decided to add a bistro car to each train, but they haven’t calculated how much more revenue that would produce.

Costs: The original cost projections were based on the Hiawatha’s current operating costs. Wisconsin and Illinois have a deal with Amtrak to cover those costs, including fuel costs and charges for using Amtrak-owned trains.

But Wisconsin is buying two new trains from Talgo Inc. for the existing line and planned to buy another two trains, plus locomotives, for the extension to Madison.

“The new Talgo equipment is far more fuel-efficient,” and running state-owned trains would insulate Wisconsin from expected increases in Amtrak rental charges, said Kevin Brubaker, deputy director of the pro-rail Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago.

On the other hand, the state would be responsible for maintaining the trains, and the costs of a maintenance contract with Talgo could eat up the savings from ending the rental charges, the Transportation Department says in its 2011-’13 budget request.

Meanwhile, the Fiscal Bureau report to state Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) addresses a Transportation Department claim that federal aid could cover up to 90% of the cost of the Milwaukee-to-Madison leg, as it does for the Milwaukee-to-Chicago leg.

That’s not extra aid for the train, the report says. It’s a piece of federal aid that already goes to the state.

In some past years, the state covered Hiawatha operating costs with money designated to reduce southeastern Wisconsin traffic congestion and air pollution, said Fred Ammerman, a supervisor in the bureau. In recent years, however, the state has been using part of its highway aid, with federal permission, Ammerman said.

That federal money usually has covered 80% of costs, rising to 90% in years when the train helps travelers avoid freeway construction zones, the report says.

In the federal fiscal year ending Sept. 30, the state’s regular federal highway aid totaled $734 million, not counting earmarks and stimulus grants, Ammerman said. A 90% share of $5.2 million in Hiawatha costs would amount to $4.7 million, or less than 1% of the total. Adding the Milwaukee-to-Madison leg would increase that share to slightly more than 1%.

In other developments:

• In a letter Thursday to President Barack Obama, Walker reiterated his view that Wisconsin should be allowed to use the $810 million for highways. But Obama can’t legally reallocate the money; as Walker has conceded, it would take an act of Congress, and U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, a Fond du Lac Republican, has said that’s unlikely.

• The AFL-CIO lashed out Friday at Walker, Ohio Governor-elect John Kasich and congressional Republicans, saying their opposition to high-speed rail threatens job creation.

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10-0 vote: Eau Claire City Council supports high speed rail

The Eau Claire City Council has unanimously declared its support for the continuation of the development of high speed passenger rail in Wisconsin.

In a 10-0 vote, the Council urged the state, and Governor-elect Scott Walker, to go forward with plans to build the Madison extension of the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha service. Council members noted that the line is an important next step to extending service to the Twin Cities, which Eau Claire hopes includes a routing via West Central Wisconsin.

Adopted last Tuesday, the resolution states:

“The City Council of the City of Eau Claire strongly endorses the continued efforts of the State of Wisconsin to work with all regions of the state to build a balanced transportation system that enhances mobility choices and strengthens the state’s global economic competitiveness.”

“The City Council strongly supports the continued development of a high speed passenger rail and integrated transportation network in Wisconsin, including the completion of a high speed passenger rail route from Milwaukee to St. Paul, and the completion of the engineering, environmental, and other essential impact analyses currently scheduled.”

“The City Council strongly supports the retention of the more than $800 million in federal funding support allocated to Wisconsin for the development of passenger rail and urges the State of Wisconsin to remain true to the approved plan for the investment of these funds in our state for the creation of jobs, economic growth and passenger rail.”

During the public hearing portion of the Council’s deliberations last Monday, Rail Coalition Co-Chair Scott Rogers was invited to give a presentation on the history and status of efforts to secure passenger rail service for Eau Claire. Several citizens also spoke up in support of the resolution, which was sponsored by Council Members Jackie Pavelski and Dana Wachs. Click here for the full text.

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