Wisconsin announces plans for more 'Hiawathas'

RELATED TOPICS: AMTRAK | MIDWEST | PASSENGER
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Hiawathatrain
A northbound Amtrak Hiawatha passes the closed tower at Rondout, Ill, on June 2, 2019.
TRAINS: David Lassen
MILWAUKEE — Wisconsin officials announced plans to add three Amtrak Hiawatha round trips to the Chicago-Milwaukee route over the next five years, and should be able to add two of those trains with or without cooperation from Illinois.

In a Wednesday news conference at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that Arun Rao, passenger rail implementation manager for the state department of transportation, said an additional round trip would be added in the next three years, with two more in the two following years. That would create a total of 10 daily round trips.

Hopes of adding those trains had been slowed by opposition in some Chicago suburbs to related infrastructure projects, which had led Illinois officials to withdraw their support for new sidings in Glenview and Lake Forest, Ill

But Craig Thompson, secretary-designee for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, told BizTimes Milwaukee it should be possible to add to two trips based solely on improvements in Wisconsin.

“We believe we can get to nine round trips just through the things we know we can do on our side,” Thompson said. “Getting to the tenth round trip daily is when we’re going to have to really work with [Illinois] and figure out our options.”

Those improvements include a bypass that would allow freight trains to avoid the downtown Milwaukee station and a second platform at the Mitchell Airport station. The airport station project has already received federal funding. The state has committed $35 million in funding toward the Hiawatha effort in its 2019 to 2021 budget.

The Racine Journal-Times reported that the Wisconsin transportation department is completing an analysis of the infrastructure improvements needed on the Canadian Pacific- and Metra-owned route, then will work with those railroads and the Illinois Department of Transportation to complete those improvements.

Even after Illinois officials withdrew support for the sidings, they said they were still committed to expanding service, a commitment Thompson reaffirmed Wednesday.
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