Wisconsin seeks high speed rail money for Hiawatha upgrade

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MADISON, Wis. - 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, according to a story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 

Gov. Scott Walker announced today that the state will apply for at least $150 million in federal high speed rail grants to add equipment and facilities for Amtrak’s Hiawatha corridor.

The upgrades apparently would not increase the speed of the 79 mph line, but could provide the capacity to increase passenger train frequency from the current seven round trips daily. In a bizarre twist, some of the money that Walker is now seeking originally was allocated for the Milwaukee-to-Madison route he previously turned down.  

Walker said he plans to join other Midwestern states in a joint application that would allow Wisconsin to buy two more passenger trainsets and eight locomotives, build a maintenance shop, and renovate the trainshed at the downtown Milwaukee station. The trainshed would account for $30 million of the grant money. Originally a $19.4 million project, it was required to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, which would have been paid out of the earlier grant. But after the state lost most of the $810 million, it was still committed to the project.

Walker now says he's building a larger trainshed and saving nearly $20 million in state money. Similarly, the locomotives, passenger cars, and maintenance base also would have been covered by the earlier grant.
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