Nearly four years after Gov. Scott Walker rejected more than $800 million in federal funding to expand passenger rail service in the state, a transportation advocacy group wants to rekindle talks of passenger rail service between Madison and Chicago.

Officials with All Aboard Wisconsin, formed in 2013, have invited local politicians and business leaders to a discussion that would focus on using existing freight lines and would not require federal or state money for passenger trains, which would travel up to 79 mph.

The meeting would be aboard a train excursion from Chicago to Prairie du Chien that is scheduled to stop in Madison on June 21.

“In the last two years, freight rail and passenger rail are feeling the need to cooperate,” said Gary Goyke, a lobbyist and spokesman for All Aboard Wisconsin. “It’s in their best interest to cooperate and use the tracks that are available. There’s a great deal of interest.”

In his invitation, Goyke said “several parties are collaborating to host a passenger rail excursion during which many views will be heard and discussions will take place in a very appropriate setting.”

The email listed Metra, the Chicago commuter rail operator; Iowa Pacific Holdings; The Milwaukee Road; Wisconsin & Southern Railroad; and Iron Horse Travel Corp.

However, Ed Ellis, president of the Chicago-based Iowa Pacific Holdings, a private passenger rail service company that operates in nine states, said he knows nothing of the meeting and that no one from his company, Metra or Wisconsin & Southern Railroad will be involved with the meetings on the train.

The Milwaukee Road, Ellis noted, no longer exists.

Ellis said his company is simply running the excursion train. However, if interested parties want to talk about passenger rail once they board in Madison, he “welcomes the conversation.”

“I have not spoken with Gary Goyke or All Aboard Wisconsin,” Ellis said. “I don’t want to make anyone mad in Wisconsin or Illinois. I just don’t want to be included in a coalition that I wasn’t asked to join.”

Goyke said he was simply acting on the request of Clark Johnson, a rail enthusiast who is a board member of Iowa Pacific Holdings.

“I did what they asked me to do. I’m not trying to mislead anybody,” Goyke said. “I have no desire to give anyone any negative information.”

Goyke and Mike McCoy, president of All Aboard Wisconsin, said details of the operation — including route, costs and potential ridership — have not been formulated.

Donna Brown-Martin, who oversees railroads and harbors for the state Department of Transportation, said she has not been contacted by anyone involved with plans for passenger rail service from Madison to Chicago.

Any plan to use a state-owned rail line would need to be approved by the state and the railroad that leases the line from the state.

The state of Wisconsin owns a rail line operated by Wisconsin & Southern Railroad that runs through McFarland, Stoughton, Edgerton, Janesville, Walworth and to the southeast to the Illinois border.

Wisconsin is served by two passenger Amtrak routes, neither of which includes a stop in Madison. The Hiawatha train runs between Chicago and Milwaukee, while the Empire Builder is a long-distance train operating one round trip a day between Chicago, Seattle and Portland, Oregon.

Its closest stops to Madison are in Columbus, Portage and Wisconsin Dells.

Goyke’s invitation drew excitement from business and political leaders Wednesday.

Madison Ald. Scott Resnick, 8th District, said he plans to take part in the informational train trip and wants to know more about costs, what type of participation might be needed from the city, the exact route and plans for a Madison train station.

“This won’t be easy to accomplish, but it’s something so many community partners believe in,” Resnick said. “It unleashes a new potential in both economic vitality and cultural experience between Madison and Chicago. Making an easier commute between the two cities unleashes a number of opportunities.”

George Wiesner, general manager of the the 214-room Best Western Inn on the Park on the Capitol Square, said he wants to meet the organizers, listen and “learn their capabilities,” he said.

“I think it would be a great thing,” Wiesner said. “There’s a steady back and forth (between Madison and Chicago), and rail probably has a future in the connectivity of Madison, Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul.”

Goyke is a former state senator and longtime lobbyist who has twice run afoul of campaign finance law.

He was convicted of four felonies in 1990 for illegal campaign contributions and was fined in 2009, when he was a lobbyist, for exceeding the $10,000 annual individual limit on contributions to all Wisconsin campaigns.

Barry Adams covers regional and business news for the Wisconsin State Journal.

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(112) comments

Maerzie
Maerzie

Just THINK of all the multi-millions of dollars of our own share of federal funds that Walker has refused (also the Medicaid money, which we now have to pay, at the state level) because his puppeteers TOLD him he should refuse. So, we are actually paying DOUBLE for all funds the dunce chooses to refuse. We paid our share already at the federal level; our shares are always refused by Walker; so the bills still have to be paid, and that money will come out of our state taxes! States that TOOK their fair shares from the feds, won't be paying AGAIN, out of their state taxes, like we have to! This, from an idiot who claims to have "balanced the budget" because he kicked the debts down the road for the next governor to worry about PLUS interest!! In my house that would NEVER be called, "balancing" a budget! But, the sad guy only has his high school diploma, so how is he to know much of anything, except how to con the voters??

damando
damando

Trying to attain 80mph on freight lines will never happen. 1st of all the track needs to be updated 2nd just think of all the little towns it has to go through which means much slower speeds. Better save your money for a high speed train service which is more like 130-200mph of course you will need a new rail system but freight lines...Forget it folks !

Norwood44

A train is a great idea and walkers biggest bungle. Madison will benefit from a comfortable connection to Chicago. All transportation is subsidized by the government in some way. The only thing that argues against it is how fast google will create a broadly adopted automated car experience which would make driving completely different. They are closer to a model than most people understand. In that case your own car becomes your train compartment

David C Hackert
David C Hackert

Each train ticket could be a raffle ticket in its self;quasi lottery till better things happen. Remember Madelin what we and and the lottery commission talked about wink. John feel free to include ur self lol get on board. The eyes of Washington are upon us....all the live long day. May i suggest to the powers to be here to Talk too Senator Durbin's Boys...(Dog and Pony Show) I'am letting the goose stick its head out of the feed sack here....BTTF Part-IV. DCH 1-715-474-2260 Great Scott.......

Norwood44

A regular train schedule from Madison to Chicago would be tremendous. It's a shame it doesnt' exist already. This would provide a more efficient route to Chicago vs Interstate travel and the constant rush hour of Chicago expressway traffic.

Steve_R

I'd really like to see all the numbers on this idea before we get all excited about it. And REAL numbers, the kind we were being shown during the Big So-Called High-Speed Rail discussions.

But one more comment: This sounds like the kind of thing people might take as a little vacation excursion. Like we can take every now and then up the railroad museum near Baraboo, not something a whole lot people would take on a daily basis. It would be a relatively slow train, probably with a number of stops. And certainly nothing like high speed rail or any of the trains I've been on in Europe.

freddiebell

Steve_R: I really think you underestimate the potential ridership of the line and oversimplify the nature of who will use it. Have you ever taken the Van Galder bus between the two cities? Many travelers are going to and from O'Hare airport, each and every day. Others are businesspeople who, as another poster recently noted, can maximize their work time that way instead of sitting behind the wheel. Still others are indeed, recreational, whether visiting another city and not wanting to deal with the aggravation and cost of traffic, parking, etc., while others go to different places along the way, to visit families and friends who pick them up on site. The list goes on from there. They all have the same basic goal: getting from one place to another without being tied to their own automobile.

The bottom line is that we need to keep an open mind as to the possibilities and not stereotype or oversimplify the discussion with a lack of information. Let's study it. Let's have an actual discussion about it. As you say, let's see the numbers. I'm sure those with more knowledge about the topic than we have are aware that a balance has to be struck between too many and too few stops, and that it must be cost effective in order for consumers to forgo other transportation options at their disposal.

meg2014

WIFI has changed the world. Now people can actually work on trains, that is the game changer. The love-affair of cars argument is outdated. If you are traveling between these major cities for work, what would you prefer even if time of the trip is the same - sitting in your car unplugged for 3 hours, or connected to your office and able to communicate/email during your trip? Business people would love the option to take a train and work on the train, rather than eat 3 hours in their car. Time is money.

Mad4Madison

Thinking the times will be similar is a big, big assumption.

iponder

Who wouldn't want access to high speed rail that provided quick access to International airports in the Twin Cities, Milwaukee, and Chicago. Oh, that's right...Scott Walker. Its unfortunate we didn't do this when we had the money to do it right. That $800 million didn't go back to the federal government, it was simply given to other states that actually want to be connected to the rest of the world.

PapaLorax

at what cost? at what regularity? where pick up and drop off? how long will the ride take?

It all sounds good until they actually have a specific plan...that's when the problems start...and that is where the lack of density loses out.

Lewis

Baloney, density in the Midwest more than justifies regular passenger rail. Where pick up and drop off? If people can get to airports way out in the corn fields, they'll get to train stations downtown. You have to start thinking like a walking, functioning human being that is indeed able to be mobile without a car attached to them! As for increasing the gas taxes to pay for rail, I'm all for it. I'm already paying dearly for airports I rarely use, same goes for freeways.

Retoother
Retoother

Two things everyone is leaving out.


1) The cost for the Madison to Milwaukee line to upgrade was $800 million 4 years ago. What is the cost going to be for over twice the distance? $1.6-$2 billion now? You need a lot of passengers to cover that cost.

2) If I can drive there and it takes half the time I am not going to take a train. Headaches or not. Time is money in today's world period. Less vacation(or even time to take it),work more hours and would be great if you just used it for your free time but like most people in business 50% of the time I have to side track for work on my way back to the office to take care of another problem.

Like with the majority of people out there it has to work out to save time as they will not do it for other causes. High speed rail (over 100 MPH) is the answer and until we get to that people will not give away their free time.

BigWheel
BigWheel

"Time is money in today's world period." Indeed, which is why spending the entire time on a 4-hour train rode being productive on my laptop beats driving 2 hours every time.

farming

Big Wheel - 9:00 am to 4 pm meeting 20 minutes west of Chicago train station.
Car - leave Madison 6:45 depending what part of Madison you live
Leave Chicago 4:00 home 6:15

Train leave for train station 3:45 am to 4:00 am depending what part of town.
Leave Chicago 4:00pm home about 9:00 to 9:15 pm.
You are correct lots of time to use lap top.

In Medias Res

The involvement of of government in transportation projects goes back a long ways. The first transcontinental railroad was built in the 1860's with about 140 million in federal funds. For those who think things were better in the good old days, note that about $40 million ended up as pure graft in the pockets of the company directors (look up Credit Mobilier scandal).

Acapitalidea

We are now seeing what ten years in Iraq with the loss of thousands of American lives and a $ trillion have accomplished. Better to take care of the U.S.A.'s infrastructure.

I just returned from visiting several cities in Germany. If you have personally experienced rail travel in other countries, you understand how efficient and inexpensive it can be. Scott Walker has made countless blunders while governor, but his biggest came early in his administration when he returned over $800 million of federal funds intended for high speed rail. That would have been a great start to rail travel in our state. Instead, he set Wisconsin back a century, cost us countless jobs and made Wisconsin defendant to a gigantic law suit that will likely cost taxpayers tens of $ millions. I used to say what Walker did was unconscionable, but that assumed he has a conscious. Passenger rail will come to Wisconsin in spite of Walker and the naysayers.

PapaLorax

it was a major election point...you could say he was elected to stop the train.

Wisconsin and the US is not Europe, the comparison is silly for a host of reasons.

Walker is not against passenger rail - he is against taking a bribe from the feds to put Wisconsin on the hook for decades to come. It is the exact same thinking why he turned down the Medicaid money. You may disagree (obviously you do) but it is this thinking that 55% of the voters are going to approve for the third time in 4 years come November.

freddiebell

Saying that Walker was elected to "stop the train" is like saying that a corporate CEO is employed "just to oversee the company." It's not as simple as you make it out to be. In fact I'd venture to say, with considerable certainty, that most people who went to the polls weren't thinking about trains one way or the other so much as other issues that were much more important to their everyday life.

If Walker is not against passenger rail ... what is he doing to support it? Do tell.

PapaLorax

It was one of the biggest issues in the 2010 campaign...far bigger then everything except the "structural debt".

Why does he have to do things to support it? Things actually can happen without government.

196ski
196ski

freddiebell, your a reasonable person with reasonable posts. In this case any governor needs to be careful that special interests do not sway a commitment that ultimately costs the taxpayers excess expenses. A Governor should be for it if it serves a demonstrated need, and has some kind of sustainability. We don't need a mini version of Amtrak.

Ohio and Wisconsin turning down the Federal money was a good move, the analysis was incomplete. I was surprised when Florida turned down the money, if Tampa to Orlando didn't make financial sense, if anyone could make it work I thought for sure it would be that route.

California took the cash but it is looking more and more like their true high speed rail will never be built.

A good analysis is the key.

freddiebell

@ PapaLorax, below: You must talk to a very different set of people than I do. I don't recall even a single person, in either 2010 or 2012, making the high-speed train issue the most important talking point when they discussed what most influenced their vote. Most people vote their pocketbooks and quality of life. The rail proposals on the table likely wouldn't impact the average person more than the cost of a few pizzas per year. That's not enough to hold their interest when they have no vested interest in the outcome. And they do stand to enhance our quality of life, by giving us more and potentially better transportation options -- not unlike what you want for yourself elsewhere in life. How do you see that as a bad thing?

At the risk of stating the obvious, Walker should "do things to support it" because he is elected to represent the interests of all Wisconsinites -- not just those who vote for him or contribute to his campaign. The addition of public rail transport would benefit a large number of our residents, travelers who bring money into our state, business interests that stand to gain $$$ (and potentially employ more people -- aka that jobs issue), those seeking to make us less reliant upon expensive and overcrowded freeways, ... need I go on? It is part of his job as our elected leader to represent these interests, to get out in front on these things and both propose and support viable transportation solutions for years to come, rather than missing out on opportunities or waiting until it is too late, and more expensive, to have a come-to-Jesus moment of awareness that there is both a need and an opportunity to do better than we have done to date.

In case you missed it in the article, much of this initiative comes from outside of government. Nobody is saying that it has to take on all of the responsibility or all of the costs. But it can and should be involved in responsible ways, with the best interests of the citizenry in mind. What's your problem with that?

PapaLorax

@freddie - it wasn't an issue in 2012...but if you forget what a big issue it was in 2010 there isn't much I can do to help you. They had rallies on it...it was a major issue between the two (yes I realize that in the end - economics always wins out) but it was big.

"because he is elected to represent the interests of all Wisconsinites"

no he is not. Sorry but I would never ever say that a politician is elected to represent everyone? If they are just supposed to do what the people want...why have representative democracy? they are elected to do what they think is best...that is why we have elections and not 1000 referendums.

" But it can and should be involved in responsible ways, with the best interests of the citizenry in mind. What's your problem with that?"

No problem - my biggest problem would be long term obligations followed by unreasonable up front assistance. But I would want to see a plan and see what the private people are asking for and why they can't do it without government first. I don't like government subsidizing businesses...I really don't like government subsidizing businesses in a effort to drive social change.

Lewis

When it comes to trains, it is not silly to compare Wisconsin or the US to Europe. In the not so distant past we had the best developed, and most extensive, passenger rail system in the world. That was when our population and density was far, far less than today. I'm so tired of you " don't, can't, won't" people always using that tired old argument against trains , that the US does not have the density to support passenger rail Go to Scandinavia today, hardly heavily populated, and check out their rail system.!! We're third world in comparison, and it's by choice. It's politics catering to certain interests, and we're too damn lazy and entitled to get out of our cars.!

PapaLorax

yes Americans are too in love with their cars...you make the point...people like cars...rail options will not change that until cars are less attractive.

You want to push for more passenger rail? Push for a $5 a gallon gas tax in addition to the current tax.

Mad4Madison

Sorry, it is silly. Very silly. It works in Europe for several reasons, density being one, cost to drive and park being a second and the ability to get to actual destinations a third.

Train service to Chicago is actually a good idea, but only for those heading to the Loop. If I want to get to O'Hare or Midway, I am going to drive to the train station, wait for the train, get on the train, go to Chicago (it will take about 2.5 to 3.5 hours via rail), then get on the CTA and head to the airport? Really?

The train has to be convenient and cost effective for the rider.

As for Scandinavia and the US being 3rd world, yeah. Ok. Sure. Let's use this for an example:

When light rail in Madison was discussed, where was it going to go? I know one place it was not - the airport. Are you kidding? Put a line from the airport to downtown and folks will ride. But when you have silly plans, you get resistance. Nothing 3rd world about that.

freddiebell

@Mad4Madison, below: A well-thought-out plan would take the proposed line directly past O'Hare (and maybe Midway) on the way into the heart of the city, rather than require someone to go there and then backtrack. I would think that the organizers are well aware of this. It seems self-evident.

Acapitalidea

Papal.orax - There are many more similarities than differences with Europe. Do you realize what you said that Walker didn't want to take a bribe? It's his way of life.

LITEONE

Governor Walker's rejection of federal funding for Public Relations nightmare might harm today's needed Wisconsin passenger train projects. Especially when Amtrak, Michigan, Indiana & Illinois get their service corridor operational, using equipment that was suppose to be used for Wisconsin.
Nevertheless, while the article indicates a communication gap, it also mentions several very capabile and respected intrested parties, including Mr.Goyle. It is suggested that those parties, as well as others interested in the project success, meet, get better organized and moved forward.
It is always easier to be critical mean spirited, than rolling up once's shelves and getting the needed jobs done. Wisconsin, as well as the rest of the nation, needs and deserves good rail passenger service. Let's get "her done instead of whinning."

number6

OK, so this is basically a fun afternoon excursion for train buffs. Fair enough. I hope they have a lovely time, and I will not be holding my breath for any dramatic outcome-like statements.

paulgk

This may be poorly researched, but it is basically about the need for passenger rail service. Why misstate it or be sarcastic? A rail alternative to auto and air would be cost effective, and needs to be researched. We also need a coordinated transportation system in this country. Does it really make sense to take a 30 minute flight to Chicago? A fast train that stopped at ORD would make more sense .

number6

A fast train to anywhere would be super. Our society, as presently constituted, doesn't do that sort of thing. Some early reactions to this article were along the lines of revelation, and I am merely putting in a vote for, 'Keep your pants on.'

freddiebell

number6: I don't think anyone particularly objects to your idea of taking a measured approach. A reasonable amount of caution and even skepticism is in order if the goal is to have a productive discussion and maximize the potential of the project.

As for our society not doing that sort of thing, it is worth recalling an article which recently appeared in these pages, noting that the younger generation increasingly is looking for alternatives to car transport, including rail and bus lines, bike lines and trails, etc. They do not want to be tied to an automobile the way that we have allowed ourselves to become. Part of the implication is that they are more open to high-speed rail than we have been and are willing to entertain other options than traditionally has been the case. To the extent that this is a discussion much more about the future than the present, that needs to be taken into account.

Northwoodsvet

I support rail transit as a needed alternative to what we have now . . . basically fly like a sardine or spend money buying and maintaining a car.

However, I hate to rain on the parade, but I'm suspicious of this for two reasons. First, it'll take loads of money to upgrade the tracks to carry trains at 79 mph. I would guess that today those tracks are capable of 30-40 mph . . . at best. And second, any group that sends out an email which includes the Milwaukee Road as an addressee is clueless. The Milwaukee Road went belly-up more than 30 years ago. If the organizers of this project don't know that, what else don't they know? (Anyway, where did they find an email address for the Milwaukee Road . . . it ceased to exist before there was email.)

Veritas777

"""""Goyke is a former state senator and longtime lobbyist who was convicted of four felonies in 1990 for illegal campaign contributions and was fined in 2009, when he was a lobbyist, for exceeding the $10,000 annual individual limit on contributions to all Wisconsin campaigns.""""................................... ................................... ..........................Notice anything missing?................................ Anyone?................................How about party affiliation?....................................... ............................Had this been a republican, the name and party affiliation would BE the headline..................... ....................... and the liberals think THIS IS fair and balanced.

adamman

The United States would greatly benefit from a vastly upgraded rail system for both passenger and freight. Europe is way, way ahead of us. It would be affordable if we'd stop shooting billions of taxpayer money into outer space. Address the transportation issues on Earth before we tackle going to Mars. I suspect that the hidden agenda of the space program is military related.
Personally, I drive between Madison and the Milwaukee area on a regular basis. I hate the drive. If I could take a train, I'd park the car in a heartbeat. I've tried bus service, but that just doesn't cut it.
Sometimes forward looking policy makers (unlike Walker) need to get better options in place even if it takes time for the demand for them to catch up.

Criscokkat
Criscokkat

NASA is around 0.43% of the federal budget.

Transportation is around 4% of the federal budget.

Farm Subsidies is around 7% of the federal budget.

Defense is about 24% of the federal budget.

Money into space is not your issue.

freddiebell

Criscokat: Good point. As we hear more and more news about the current meltdown in Iraq, we are left to wonder how much money (not to mention human capital) seems to have been wasted there that could have been put to much better use elsewhere. Perhaps that is a separate issue in the bigger picture. But if people say that we don't have the money for increased and better public transport (as well as education and other shared requirements), it is inherent in the discussion to provide an honest answer as to why that might be the case. This issue certainly factors into that discourse.

Cornelius_Gotchberg
Cornelius_Gotchberg

@adamman;

"I'd park the car in a heartbeat."

Don't neglect to account for unintended victims, like your bumper sticker slathered Toyota Pious, which it appears you'd have no problem mothballing.

Then again, one fewer vehicle driving slowly in the fast lane.

The Gotch

adamman

Eggo,

No Prius for me. Chevrolet Prizm is my current chickmobile. And my beloved Prizm is blissfully free of any bumper stickers.

As usual, your assumptions are totally inaccurate. I would rather suffer a slow, painful death than drive slow in the fast lane. I even drive fast in the slow lane while giving the Gotch the international salute as I pass by.

Cornelius_Gotchberg
Cornelius_Gotchberg

@adamman;

"I would rather suffer a slow, painful death than drive slow in the fast lane."

If it's the former you prefer, you may consider perusing some of your previous comments.

Both hands on the wheel at 10 & 2 of your...um...chickmobile won't allow you to acknowledge me in the manner you choose.

And that's a darn shame!

The Gotch

MisterMike

An interesting concept. However, as much as I'd personally benefit, I'm a little skeptical. Metra, which I ride every day and which operates under a similar shared-tracks arrangement, has gone from being a reliable and efficient means of transportation to one that is shoddy and unreliable.

I'd be interested in learning how this venture would overcome the same obstacles.

Fflambeau

"For white lefties like Soglin, Pocan & Tammy Baldwin etc., it's all about government programs, jobs, expansion of welfare state and how fast can we bring the illegal aliens to Dane county so that we can have future voters." Hilarious and demented. The Dems have done all right in Dane Co. without a railroad and without bringing in illegal aliens on it. And they are going to take back the Governorship in November by kicking out the ineffective, divisive, and under performing Walker. He's just another career politician: never held a real job in his life. Mary Burke has run businesses and actually hired people; she is NOT a career politician. Any talk of a railroad is going to hurt Scotty because people will realize that when he turned down $800,000,000 in federal money for it, he also turned down lots of jobs. Remember jobs? And yes, the railroad should also connect to the Twin Cities (as the one that Scotty undermined was going to). Maybe we can ride Scotty out on a rail; wouldn't he like that?

196ski
196ski

I love trains. I took my family on the City of New Orleans to New Orleans a few years ago just so they could experience it. Rail is an amazing way to see the country and relax without the hassle of driving or the sterility of flying. That being said the question becomes, is there enough support to make passenger rail self sufficient?

Amtrak loses around a billion dollars each year. Congress is again looking at reducing its subsidies and leaning more on the States to pick up what Congress is unwilling to do. Light rail, commuter rail, has always been the most self sufficient with the losses mostly coming from inter-city travel.

I think the key would be the analysis of ridership. How much would come from pent up demand and how much would have to come from winning over skeptics meaning a longer run to profitability? Would the politicians and special interests destroy the possibility before it got off the ground?

Lots of questions, certainly worth a long hard honest look. California's high speed rail seems to be hitting one major misstep after another. They have become the poster child for how not to build a railway. Use the lessons learned their and not repeat them here.

Florida turned down the initial Federal rail subsidy for their proposed Tampa Orlando route as did Ohio and of course Wisconsin. California took the money but has fallen flat on their face. Florida reexamined rail between Miami and Orlando recently and despite the population density it lacks public support. Reason to be cautious but not reason not to examine throughly.

geo_

So you're OK with the trillions in taxpayer subsidies spent on roadways, autos and petroleum over the last few decades. If we had a passenger rail system in place similar to those in Europe we'd have cleaner air and water, not to mention other benefits.

Criscokkat
Criscokkat

Population is denser in Europe and thus distances between cities that people want to travel between is much mush less. Even the cities between major cities are much more populated.

That's why rail travel between around Chicago makes sense and why a private firm may be thinking it could make a profit with a little bit of infrastructure upgrades (because I'm quite sure they will be asking for this). The Chicago/Milwaukee/Madison/rockford area makes sense for public rail. The small towns inside that area are much larger than towns outside it, thus making the runs more economical with stations every 15-20 miles or so. This is less so between Madison and the Twin Cities because not only are there less large towns but the rural areas are VERY rural. In most parts inside that area I am speaking of you can't go more than a mile or two without running into at least one or two rural subdivisions.

paulgk

Exactly why we need a coordinated system. Madison to Chicago is a long drive and a too short flight. Optimum distance for trains that would feed into other systems. And also, Amtrak does need need to stop at Portage, the Dells, and other smaller towns. Regional buses should take people to major city train stops. It would be more efficient and the train would be faster.

freddiebell

196ski: This is a fair and reasonable plea for doing our due diligence. Thanks for hitting that middle ground of keeping an open mind but also taking into account where the potential for failure may lie.

There seem to be three main positions that people espouse on the issue of public rail transport:

1) "Yes, I'm all for it as an improvement -- bring it on!"

2) "Maybe ... it sounds good in theory, but how will you make it work?"

3) "No ... it will cost me money and nobody will use it."

I am largely of Position 1, with the caveat that the legitimate concerns that you, Bryan, and a few others have raised must be addressed satisfactorily. They are fair and reasonable points. What I am against are the people who dismiss the idea out of hand, irrationally fearing the idea of change and because they aren't willing to spend money toward potential progress -- although they show no objection to doing so in some other areas, most notably massive military expenditures and other such huge commitments of money that too often go unused or otherwise are wasted (see today's news from Iraq for an instructive update on what is happening to an increasing amount of our very expensive weaponry).

We have to think about the changing realities of this century and even the next one, as fuel resources become more scarce, population centers become more dependent upon one another, roads become both more cumbersome and more expensive to maintain and replace, and the need to transport goods and even services can be done both cheaper and more reliably by other methods than by highway. How do you propose that we reach the naysayers and convince them that this rail proposal represents a long-term opportunity to succeed more than a chance to fail?

PapaLorax

unless gas doubles in price...inter-city rail in the midwest is going to continue to be a big loser. The east coast, which is much denser and older infrastructure can't make it work...there is no chance this will be economically feasible.

freddiebell

PL: Any specific evidence to back up your assertion?

How do you explain the fact that the Van Galder bus line runs profitably between Madison and Chicago, with multiple routes and numerous buses per day in each direction? If they can make it work, why can't rail transport, over an existing network? Specifics, please.

PapaLorax

are you seriously comparing bus and train in terms of cost? I am glad you recognize bus routes because the pro-train groups tends to act like there is no way to get to milwaukee or chicago without a car.

what assertion? That inter-city US train service loses money? Good lord...there isn't a single article or study that ever shows they even break even or might break even...every single one is a question of how much public support is needed to maintain the service. And these are cities much larger then Madison.

freddiebell

@ PapaLorax, below: Cost is not the only issue of interest in the matter. Convenience also matters. So does productivity. And attractiveness to others. And being prepared for a changing future.

It's okay to spend a buck to make two in the end, if you go about it in the right way. That's what we are talking about here. You are falling into the classic trap of knee-jerk deciding that "if it costs any money, it's no good." And, "if government is involved, it must be bad." As I stated elsewhere, we've all heard those tired, empty, intellectually lazy arguments before. You don't get the high ground on the issue just because you want it. Cite those studies you refer to. Back up your case with specific evidence. I noted that there is a demonstrable need and market for regular public transportation between Madison and Chicago. I also can cite the established fact that many people make the long drive, every day, to Harvard IL to take the Metra into Chicago and would benefit from an option closer to home to make that journey. You haven't done anything to show that rail service would not be a beneficial additional option for those and still other travelers. So the ball is still in your court. Do something with it rather than talk in generalities around it. Again ... specifics, please.

PapaLorax

you want me to cite studies? I am not in a formal debate...if you doubt this fact please educate yourself. Passenger rail exists only on massive government subsidy. Amtrak America's government-run passenger rail service, received $1.4 billion in taxpayer subsidies in 2011.

ButSiriuslyFolks

Hey, snooty!

We were just talking about you in the gay marriage stories!

Why so quiet?

Did you "evolve"?

If Diamond Jim Doyle were approving gay marriages, what would you be saying?

snootyelites

You have clear streak of deviancy jumping into gay marriage in a bullet train story.

Well we got four states ahead of Wisconsin that are heading to SCOTUS! We will have settled law on the matter soon one way or other.

As a tea party prolife libertarian, gay marriage is an inevitability barring unlikely SCOTUS objections. It's a shift in national acceptance. But that's different from in your face lefty gay mafia that parades itself in media. Glad they are in check. Again, Demographics, lefty gays represent 3-5% tops, their boycotts will be easily railroaded by 35% or so christians as the Duck Dynasty & other episode showed. Inflaming gays is all win win in show business just as inflaming racism - $2 billion for clippers case in point. Milwaukee bucks only got $500 million. If Herb Kohl had a recorded phone conversation with a male gay prostitute he could have probably pulled $1 billion tops.

Quick reminder both Obama and Hillary were opposed to gay marriage until 2012. Bill Clinton signed DOMA. Democrat party founded the KKK, if you examine the Democrat party ruled Urban America in last 50 years - it's a calamity. White liberals don't even talk about it. Obama reduced black unemployment by 1%, Reagan reduced by 15%.

For white lefties like Soglin, Pocan & Tammy Baldwin etc., it's all about government programs, jobs, expansion of welfare state and how fast can we bring the illegal aliens to Dane county so that we can have future voters. In the meantime white old ladies, middle class and veterans become casualties of demographic politics.

That's my talking points memo! Scary? Stick to trains next time.

Stuck In The Middle With You

They should be running rail from Milwaukee to Madison to that shining city on a hill Minneapolis but I think they would be afraid that once they get their feet on the ground in what my mother just called the Cities when she was young going to work there that they may not want to come back to Walkersville. Just compare Minnesota's tourism commercials to Wisconsin's worn out rehashed 70's satire and would you ever really believe Kareem when he says "I don't know why I ever left here?!". We know, we all know Kareem.

snootyelites

Thank God for Scott Walker and then think how small Wisconsin is that we did not get trapped in this mayhem!

Beloved Governor Brown in California and the Beloved Democrats are handing the high speed bullet train this way.

http://hotair.com/archives/2014/02/20/are-california-democrats-abandoning-gov-browns-beloved-high-speed-rail-boondoggle/

dhannes
dhannes

The plan should include a stop near O'Hare, a stop in Madison, and then a final destination of the Dells...the number of people from the Chicago metro area that travel to the Dells each year could make the train profitable if convenient (it may require shuttles in the Dells to shuttle people to their hotels or resorts). I suspect in most, if not all scenarios, some form of government subsidy would be needed...but if the cost is less than those cost by road repairs, traffic enforcement, and energy usage, it should strongly be considered...at the very least, the City of Madison or Dane County or the State of Wisconsin, etc..., could borrow at historically low, tax-exempt rates and then take the proceeds and loan it to the privately run rail company.

Criscokkat
Criscokkat

If the route goes down to fox Lake, Il on it's way to chicago (metra fox lake line), this would simply be a transfer at Prairie Crossing to the North Central Service line that takes you to O'Hare.

This would be AWESOME. :)

Fflambeau

I've a simpler and quicker solution: get rid of Walker and bring in a Governor who will actually help Wisconsin and promote rail use and the economy (Mary Burke). She can then work with the feds to kick start what Scotty vetoed. Railroads are a huge item for infrastructure and costly: 79 miles per hour is not going to do it either in the modern day. A modern rail system will need to double that speed (otherwise people will continue to drive) and all of that takes money. It is a perfect infrastructure project for governments and will create lots of new jobs, something Walker hasn't done!

Marcus

This will never work. Everyone knows without an $800,000,000 handout from uncle Sam, this is just a pipe dream.

freddiebell

Why will it "never work"? Just because you say so?

Show us some evidence. Back up your assertion with facts. I'm tired of the same empty, intellectually lazy rhetoric that people like you put forward, with nothing to substantiate it and the assumption that your viewpoint holds the high ground simply because, well, ... just because. Put some meat on the bones. Until then you've just got an opinion. That's not good enough for a real discussion of the issue.

Marcus

My guess is everyone on this page understood my point except for you.

freddiebell

In other words, you don't have an answer and you don't have any evidence to back up your opinion. What a great response to a challenge.

Obviously you haven't noticed that the majority of people responding in this thread so far feel differently than you do. So much for your ability to guess correctly. Feel free to take a seat on the bench and sit this one out.

Bryan

The answer about how a Madison to Chicago passenger rail service would be funded is complicated and I won't go into that here. What I will say is that the cost to upgrade existing freight tracks, signals, and switches and other necessary infrastructure is not low. Passengers will not be willing to endure long slow zones which currently exist for portions of the freight track system. Neither will they want to deal with being stuck at a standstill while the freight train in front of them has an issue. The Wisconsin & Southern tracks and signals will need to be upgraded and a lot of other things will have to happen. Although that is indeed possible, another problem is not only the high total initial cost but also the issue of which entities will share paying those steep upfront costs. Until Wisconsin and the other states involved as well as the federal government and a regional funding authority (i.e. a rail authority) which does not yet currently exist, decide to sign on and can sort out the funding issues, the idea would just be a nice fantasy. Financing the annual cost after construction is another issue and maintenance of the line and its infrastructure is another.

Personally, I love passenger rail and would love to see service resume in Madison. I would also love to see a Dells train from Chicago, a Chicago / Milwaukee / Madison / Minneapolis train. If you can get all politicians involved from two to three states and the federal government to agree on anything even in theory, that would be the first among many miracles necessary for a new multi-state rail corridor in Wisconsin. To help things along, I will say a small railroad prayer tonight before bedtime.

freddiebell

Bryan: Thanks for your honest feedback. Your response is everything that Marcus' knee-jerk objection lacks.

You raise a number of important issues that all of us, including those inherently in favor of rail transport, must acknowledge and work on. As I noted in a reply to Hogzilla below, the biggest is the need to upgrade existing lines to handle the speed desired and required. That will involve cost and effort. But it also stands to benefit freight rail, which will be able to get its goods to markets faster and potentially in greater quantity with an eye toward the future, if/as freight transport continues to increase as a viable option to clogged highways. And it addresses important safety factors that are a must, from the perspective of federal regulators on down to us as consumers. And, as you rightly note, the issue of who will pay what costs needs to be addressed and stated quite clearly up front, such that binding commitments can be made and the wheels of progress don't slow to a stop with unnecessary infighting after the project begins, assuming it gets that far.

At this point the effort is in those important first stages. The ability to address these concerns adequately will allow them to move on the the second phase, of addressing the logistics of actual operation. To me the trick is not to let the discussion get too far ahead of the issues involved, to not go too hard too quickly. The short timeline toward implementation sounds great in theory but may well not be realistic. Given a choice, I'd much rather see them do it right than do it fast. That seems to be the best pathway toward eventual success for the long term.

paulgk

Come on. Airport money, highway money, etc..... Its all govt dollars. We would not have an Interstate system if Eisenhower hadn't proposed it as a Federal project!

freddiebell

paulgk: Some caution is in order here. You might make Marcus' head explode by inserting actual facts into the discussion. He does not seem prepared for that.

Stilicho

I did not support the Milw/Mad boondoggle because the economics didn't work. This might very well work.

Visited Germany last year and was amazed to see trains being used to ferry kids to/from school, even from distant suburban locations. If the system is planned well, trains can make up for a good deal of medium-distance trips.

S54k

stilicho said "If the system is planned well, trains can make up for a good deal of medium-distance trips." You mean trips like between Madison and Milwaukee?

davea

Why not?

Zeppelin1521
Zeppelin1521

Sounds like you did not support trains until you used one and you changed your opinion. That is a common problem here, so many people that have never even used a train having very strong opinions one way or the other. Trying using one then make an educated decision on if you think they are useful. I drive from Madison to Sturtevant (this is in Wisconsin) and hop on the Amtrak Hiawatha line down to Chicago. Try doing this you will love it, no tolls no traffic and it takes you right downtown where you can hop on the L.

Crow Barr
Crow Barr

Could this be the famous rail that we ride Walker out of town upon????

davea

Especially if we get the Koch's to buy the ticket.

City Person

So, please tell me where Crawford, Wis. is, or where in Crawford County the train is headed!

Criscokkat
Criscokkat

https://www.google.com/maps/place/Crawford+County/@43.0161956,-91.1316892,195m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x87fc60f7a3d56b73:0xda29e31677d806de

This is Crawford Diamond.

WeNeedaDream

I've done MUCH train travel across around the country (including the Hiawatha and Van Galder links to Chicago)… loving many aspects of them… but skeptical about them changing huge habits, freedoms, and conveniences (even among the strongest advocates for trains).

Chuckp

How hard did Mr Goyke have to bite his tongue in re "respect and value...local leaders...."
I hope all concerned are very careful with this as it could signal the end of the automobile along with the billions of dollars the trucking industry and highway builders pour into election coffers to ensure we get the best government money can buy.
If this ever comes to pass I will crap in my hat at the train station at Washington and Regent.

walkersuks
walkersuks

The businesses in both cities want tourists from Chicago to come up to Madison and the Dells for a weekend and vice versa. It seems like it would make sense but would really cost a lot of money and time and right now you can take a Badger bus to Chicago or Milwaukee for $30.

freddiebell

walkersuks: Those in charge of overseeing the service are well aware that transportation is a competitive industry. They know what the bus tickets cost, and what it costs to go from site to site by car. They have an incentive to keep their prices as low as possible, because consumers have other options at their disposal -- just like any other area within a free-market economy.

freddiebell

This is fantastic news. I hope people are open-minded enough to consider the many opportunities that such a venture would open up instead of reverting to the knee-jerk "not if it costs any money" line of stuck-in-neutral thinking. It's good for business, for companies looking for more and better connections to their markets and for those individuals who could work while commuting, as opposed to driving. It's good for leisure travelers, who would have more (and more attractive) options to see the cities on each end as well as other cultural attractions at stops along the way. And it's good for students and other travelers looking to get to O'Hare for their flights without having to deal with the hassle and expense of long-term airport parking, traffic congestion, toll roads, etc. And the best part is, the infrastructure for it already is in place and can be improved over time.

From where I sit it's a win-win for all involved. Let's hope our leaders and the business partners in the venture have the courage to say "yes" to opportunity rather than listen to the doom-and-gloom parties who say without evidence that it won't work, no one will ride it, it costs money, and the other tired old arguments against striving for progress.

Lewis

Well said! If some of these " don't, can't , won't" bloggers had been around in centuries past, we'd never had the transcontinental railroad built! Heck, they'd never have left the old country! They betray the American legacy of " yes, we can do it, it's worth the risk!"

Hogzilla
Hogzilla

"Build it and they will come."

If private companies think there is a need that could be met by building a railroad, I am fine with it. I would be curious about the Right of Way discussions that would take place and whether or not Chapter 32 would be in play. Eminent Domain execution is complicated and I would question the basis for such an endeavor.

A simpler idea would be to look for a spur that went to Portage or Columbus from Madison that tied into existing corridors.

freddiebell

Hogzilla: The attraction of the idea in this case is that it already is built, to the extent that they are discussing the use of the existing rail lines. That doesn't preclude building spur lines if/as needed, if they are cost effective. And I do suspect that some of the trackage would need to be upgraded in places --some of the Wisconsin & Southern right-of-ways are old and relatively fragile, not ready for 79 miles per hour traffic when most of their trains top out at about 30 mph.

The other issue of appeal to me here is that the proposed route runs through some new areas for passenger rail, including Janesville as a fairly sizeable market along the way, plus the Chicago suburbs above and beyond their Metra service. That has some potential, based on the ridership level that the Van Galder bus service gets out of the city between Chicago and Madison.

Criscokkat
Criscokkat


This is why they have to get the next generation of leaders on board. Capital improvements to Wisconsin & Southern lines would be paid by the line's owner, in this case the State of Wisconsin.

I also think there's a chance you could see a janesville - evansville - madison route instead. The cost to upgrade the active lines versus the deactive line from evansville north wouldn't be that much different.

freddiebell

@ Criscokat, below: Agreed. I would be interested to see as well if the proposed route includes Rockford. While that would take the trains somewhat off of a straight-line route, costing some commute time, it also would stand to add a significant amount of ridership to the line, given its size and the fact that Rockford is not on a passenger rail route otherwise and would benefit from a direct train link with Chicago.

I recall that there was talk some years back about extending the Metra rail line from Harvard (IL) all the way up to Janesville and then eventually to Madison. The timeline was stated for 2016, if I remember correctly. But I've not heard anything of that proposal since then. I wonder if this current plan is part of that earlier idea, maybe a refinement or extension of it but rooted in the previous idea.

Steve_R

Passenger rail service between Madison and Chicago may be paid for by the railroads but it will need to be regulated by the government. Strictly. Don't kid yourselves, we'll all end up subsidizing a transportation system that can't pay for itself. And if Wisconsin and Southern is in on any "deal" then it should be a "no go" from the beginning.

Criscokkat
Criscokkat

The current Wisconsin & Southern ownership has nothing to do with the previous owner. Gardner sold 100% of his shares in 2011 and 2012. Watco owns them and has done a pretty good job of expanding the business and putting more traffic on their roads. This is great as it gets traffic off of the roads.

I suppose the idea behind the new line is the same as this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Flyer

Lewis

Of course it'll be subsidized and regulated by government. Name me one from of transit that isn't, including sidewalks for pedestrians!

freddiebell

Steve_R: How do you know that the system wouldn't be able to pay for itself, especially when the core infrastructure already is in place? Do you have a crystal ball that no one else has? And even if subsidies are needed, it may well be a worthwhile investment for the greater good. This has the potential to be a great opportunity, on multiple levels. It is a discussion we can and should have. It shouldn't be shut off just because some people aren't willing to think beyond their own self-interest.

Steve_R

Ticket prices on such a route would be prohibitive to many, many folks. High ticket prices, low ridership. And slow trains. Didn't Tommy Thompson try this once...a few passenger cars from Janesville to Chicago? It didn't work. Madison to Chicago might have a better chance. But the buses and cars are still going to be a less expensive way to get from here to there...by far.

Let's see the ridership studies, and not the bogus BS we saw during the "high speed" rail debate... Let's some estimated ticket prices and timetables. Let's see the suggested routes and the stops along the way. And where the passenger stations will be located.

And I do not need a crystal ball to know that if the Wisconsin and Southern Railroad is involved in this effort, we should all be very cautious. By the way, railroads get plenty of government money already...

badger313

Highways and airlines are massively subsidized by tax dollars; for example Wisconsin currently pays $1.6 billion per year for roads. It would seem therefore that highways can't pay for themselves either? They're still pretty handy to have though.

Hogzilla
Hogzilla

We aren't getting rid of the roads. Any further expenditures on rail will be above and beyond the burden we have to maintain and improve the road infrastructure.

Most people would rather see an improvement on the consumption end of things by improving the efficiency of the cars and trucks that travel on the roads before they move toward a system of mass transit in large geographic areas that we have here in Wisconsin and across the country. Make the cars lighter and more efficient, build the roads stouter and push for lighter and more efficient trucks to move goods within local areas and improve freight rail to move things over larger areas with better depots for smaller and lighter trucks within the regions.

badger313

"We aren't getting rid of the roads. Any further expenditures on rail will be above and beyond the burden we have to maintain and improve the road infrastructure."

The point is that rail travel would replace some of the future need for roads, and is not simply an extra cost. It certainly serves that function along the busy NE U.S. corridor. Its worth discussing whether the midwest routes are suited for this mode of transportation though.

kashka-kat

Um Mr. Barry, Amtrak does indeed provide service to Madison. It uses Van Galder bus to get you to union Station in Chicago, and from there you can go anywhere Amtrak goes. The bus leg of the trip is included in the price of your ticket... which BTW can be very cheap depending on time of year/how far in advance you buy. Went to New Orleans recently for about $120 each way. There are a number of other places around the us where Amtrak incorporates bus into its service.

Its too bad so few people seem to know about this and utilize the service. Doesnt help if the reporters dont get their info correct.

human

We used to take the train from Chicago to Florida every year, and we started by boarding the Van Galder bus in front of Memorial Union. (When the driver took our tickets, we always liked to ask him how to get to the dining car...)

The Van Galder bus is pretty good, at least when traffic is not too bad on the Kennedy Expressway. (It's also a good way to get to downtown Chicago, even if you're not continuing on Amtrak) But a real train would be a lot nicer.

sriver

It sounds like a good service, but I'm not sure if it really counts as "service to Madison" if the station is in Chicago.

epic

"While no tax dollars would be used for operations....."

I'm sorry, I must have missed something. How can the train operate without tax dollars? I think we need a John Doe investigation to find out how a train can operate without President Obama's intervention. Walker and the Koch brothers at it again.

freddiebell

It's called buying tickets. Y'know, like what you do when you fly from one place to another. And what you do to watch a Packers or Brewers game in person. And to visit a museum. And so on and so forth.

The system works. If enough people are willing to give it a try, the issue will resolve itself just fine. Try not to be afraid of change and opportunity.

sramme

I think epic was being sarcastic.

modotti

this would be great.
just don't ever let Scott Walker ride.

EWT

I love trains and rode them in Europe. This could work. The high speed rail would have been a money pit and needed huge subsidies. I like this idea and hope they can get the numbers to support it.

DopplerDoug

EVERY mode of transportation in this country is subsidized. This one will be no different.

Tax dollars may not go directly to paying for tickets, but governments will help pay for infrastructure improvements and stations.

freddiebell

And what's wrong with that? If the government spends a buck to make two and enhance both our quality of life and the chances of our businesses achieving greater success (and maybe hiring more people), isn't that a deal worth taking? Some people look at the issue and simply see it as an expense. That's a glass-half-empty approach. I see it as an investment in our shared infrastructure. That's a glass half-full.

Hogzilla
Hogzilla

Freddie~ Would you please just apply for a job with the DOT? I don't want to beg, but you obviously care about this stuff. We could use ya' :)

freddiebell

@ Hogzilla, below: I've made a mental bookmark of the idea. Thanks for your vote of support. I still feel like I can make a difference where I'm at -- if the system can get back to making opportunities available to the people who want to do good things and who offer their loyalty. But DOT has some interesting options too. The idea is appealing on various levels.

Hogzilla
Hogzilla

freddie~ Just go do good things man. Maybe people don't appreciate education the way they should right now. Maybe the money is flowing into transportation. Maybe you should jump ship for a few years and get your finger in the pie. If you look, you're going to keep seeing openings. The rats left the ship and now the baby boomers are leaving in droves. There is so much opportunity that it's silly. They hired me :)

freddiebell

@ Hogzilla, below: Points duly noted. They are logical and reasonable -- thanks for the feedback. I will take it into account, as I'm not wedded to just one approach and, as you note, casting one's lot solely with the field of education increasingly is a loser proposition. Despite what the Act 10 apologists say, good educators with marketable skills are in fact leaving the system with other options at their disposal, and they are not always being replaced by quality -- if they are replaced at all, given the lousy budgets. As history shows us, the last ones trying to get off of a sinking ship usually find that they run out of both lifeboats and lifebelts. That is not a good place to be.

DopplerDoug

Freddie- For the record, I'm on your side with this. I'm very much in favor of the project and recognize that some public money is probably needed to make it happen.

The point of my comment was to counter EWT's point that they didn't support the high-speed rail line because it required subsidies. As I stated, EVERY mode of transportation receives subsidies, including conservatives' beloved highways.

What's interesting (but not surprising) to me is how many people's opposition to tax dollars being used just magically goes away when there is a corporation that stands to make a profit.

freddiebell

@ DopplerDoug, below: I see your point. Sorry if I misread the intent of your post.

DopplerDoug

Freddie, below - No problem. Thanks for your enthusiasm on this topic!

marlori

the Madison-Chicago train left Bedford St station in the early '60's-- it was PACKED at UW breaks-- we had to sit on our suitcases in the aisles. Perhaps the crowded use just at student vacation time wasn't enough to keep it going. I hope this one has better success. Trains are great transportation.

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