Rail coalition seeks west central Wisconsin routeThe West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition said last week that this area of the state should be part of a proposed Wisconsin High-Speed Rail Network.
The West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition said last week that this area of the state should be part of a proposed Wisconsin High-Speed Rail Network.
Members of the coalition applaud much of the philosophy of the draft Connections 2030 plan, which includes a state policy goal to provide Wisconsin citizens with transportation choices by improving passenger train service and other non-automobile travel options.
In the draft plan, WisDOT says it, “envisions a 21st century intercity passenger rail system that links the Midwest region’s major economic centers.”
However, West Central Wisconsin is not included in that network, which would be built in the plan’s three phases with routes serving Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison-La Crosse-St. Paul and Milwaukee-Green Bay.
The coalition points out that West Central Wisconsin – which encompasses the Chippewa Valley and St. Croix Valley areas from Eau Claire/Chippewa Falls through Menomonie and Hudson/River Falls – is one of the fastest growing population areas in the state, growth that could be stunted if the area is left out of the network.
“This could be dangerous to our economic future and quality of life,” said Rail Coalition Co-Chair Scott Rogers of Eau Claire. “While this report acknowledges emerging national trends toward availability of more transportation alternatives like high-speed rail, and commits state resources to planning and developing them, it leaves our area high-and-dry, dependent only on the automobile for the foreseeable future.”
Rogers said the state’s own studies already point to the feasibility of rail service to the region. Scenarios examined by WisDOT in a study it commissioned included an Eau Claire-Hudson-St. Paul route (known as Eau Claire West) or implementing the Madison-St. Paul route with its frequent trains alternating on routes via La Crosse and Eau Claire/Hudson.
To address concerns about the draft, the coalition is asking WisDOT to change Chapter 8 of the Connections 2030 Plan. The coalition suggests formally adopting the “Eau Claire plus La Crosse” scenario as the state’s official plan for the portion of the rail network between Madison and St. Paul.
Half of the trains would use the current Amtrak route via La Crosse and Winona, Minn.; and the other half the Chippewa/St. Croix route via Black River Falls, Eau Claire, Menomonie and Hudson.
In completing these plans, Rogers said WisDOT and Minnesota should consider additional stops for some of the rush-hour frequencies (such as Baldwin, Roberts and communities in Washington County) to provide an initial commuter rail function.
The coalition also suggests studying the feasibility of a cross-state route between Green Bay/Fox Cities, Central Wisconsin, Chippewa Falls/Eau Claire and St. Paul.
The coalition is encouraging others in the area to submit comments to WisDOT supporting these changes. WisDOT is accepting public feedback through Feb. 27. For more information on Connections 2030, visit www.wiconnections2030.gov or call (608) 266-8108.