Wisconsin legislative committee approves funds for 'Hiawatha' equipment

State funds provide required match to federal grant for new coaches, cab cars
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Hiawatha_equipment_Johnston
A former F40 locomotive converted to a cab car leads a southbound Hiawatha through the Techny interlocking in Northbrook, Ill., on May 23, 2019. Tracks diverging in foreground are used by Canadian Pacific for trains to or from Bensenville Yard west of Chicago. CP won’t allow more round trips until more tracks are added in Glenview where the route joins Union Pacific rails. The Wisconsin grant will allow replacement of the cab cars with cab coaches, but will only augment with another trainset — not replace — the Horizon cars in the photo.
Bob Johnston

MADISON, Wis.—The Wisconsin Legislature’s budget committee has approved funding to help purchase additional equipment for Amtrak’s Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawathas.

The committee approved spending $13.2 million, a state match to a $25.7-million Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair service grant that had been awarded earlier in 2019.

The funding paves the way for a $38.9 million purchase of six coaches and three cab coaches that are an add-on to the Midwest and California fleet of 137 cars that have begun production at Siemens Sacramento, Calif., facility.

“The grant can now be finalized with the federal and state funds encumbered,” Wisconsin’s Passenger Rail Manager Arun Rao tells Trains News Wire. “The cab cars have 58 to 62 revenue seats, replacing the current converted locomotive cabs that have no revenue seating,” he adds.

When new, stimulus-funded Midwest equipment was ordered in 2010, Wisconsin only opted for locomotives — not passenger cars — because under former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, it had agreed to purchase Series 8 Talgo trainsets in conjunction with a 110-mph Hiawatha extension to Madison. But Republican Gov. Scott Walker turned back the federal money for the new route and cancelled the Talgo order. Those trainsets are still languishing at Amtrak’s Beech Grove Heavy Maintenance Facility near Indianapolis.

As a result, the joint Wisconsin-Illinois sponsored service is still utilizing decades-old Horizon and Amfleet coaches on the two trainsets that currently provide seven weekday round trips. Although cab coaches will replace the former F40 locomotive cab cars, funding has yet to be identified to replace the passenger cars now being used.

Once the new coaches and cab coaches arrive within three years, the state will be able to create another trainset that will allow it to implement a 10-round-trip schedule [see “Wisconsin announces plans for more Hiawathas,” Trains News Wire, July 18, 2019] on the 85-mile corridor, which carried 882,189 passengers in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. The ridership is up 4.5 % from fiscal 2018 on the unreserved trains.

However, host railroad Canadian Pacific has said that more Amtrak frequencies can’t be added until previously agreed-upon capacity improvements are built. Illinois legislators have sided with trackside residents of Glenview and Lake Forest, Ill., to prevent that state from funding the prescribed infrastructure [see “CP puts damper on plans for more Hiawathas,  Trains News Wire, July 29, 2019].

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