Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Wisconsin service lacking

Passenger railroad will skip central Wis.

By Tracey Ludvik
For Central Wisconsin Sunday

Despite progress on the Midwest Rail Initiative, passenger rail service won't be returning to central Wisconsin anytime soon. But those who want to travel by the initiative's new high-speed trains will be provided better access.

According to Randall Wade, a member of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's intercity rail systems committee, the high-speed rail initiative would expand Amtrak service to include Madison, Green Bay and Appleton. Currently, Amtrak travels between Milwaukee and Minneapolis through Portage, Wisconsin Dells and La Crosse.

The Midwest Rail Initiative is a collaborative effort among eight Midwest states and Wisconsin to expand and modernize the region's passenger rail system.

"Unfortunately, there are no short-term (rail service) plans for Wausau," said Wade, who added that an Amtrak shuttle bus would take Wausau passengers to the station in Appleton for connecting service to points across the nation.

Wade said he's not sure why Amtrak doesn't serve the area But he said it's likely due to the initial contract Amtrak made with Canadian Pacific Railroad to maintain their train tracks between Milwaukee and Minneapolis to handle passenger trains.

Amtrak is the federally supported passenger train system developed when private passenger trains stopped service.

Wade said Amtrak currently takes customers by bus from Wausau to Milwaukee for connecting routes.

Robert Taylor, an Amtrak reservation specialist, said the public rail service uses Lamers Bus Lines in Mosinee to transport customers to Milwaukee once a day. Taylor added that westbound passengers can catch the Empire Builderat a train platform in Portage.

Last week, Wade was in Washington, D.C., lobbying for federal support to implement the rail initiative in Wisconsin and provide better service here.

Passenger rail proponents are encouraging potential passengers to contact their federal lawmakers in support of the rail lines. Wisconsin lawmakers already have approved $50 million for the Midwest Rail Initiative, including projects to upgrade tracks, buy new locomotives and expand the Amtrak service. But that funding represents only 20 percent of the total cost of the project, said David Rasmussen, a spokesman for Wisconsin Association of Rail Passengers. The initiative needs the remaining $200 million from the federal government to get the project under way.

"We need to upgrade the tracks and purchase high-speed locomotives," said Wade, who explained the new trains would travel up to 110 miles per hour compared to the current maximum of 79 miles per hour.

Ronald Beckman, 68, is a local train enthusiast who took his family on vacation by rail when his children were growing up. He now travels by train to visit his children, but says it's inconvenient. "It's a problem where to leave your car. It's a security issue.

"I think an overwhelming majority of people -- historians and economists -- (say) it really doesn't make much sense for autos and trucks (to be the primary mode of transportation)," Beckman said.

He explained that central Wisconsin mimicked the nation when the federal government began underwriting the construction of highways for cars.

"One thing about Americans is we've gotten too comfortable with cars."


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