Rail Coalition Monthly Meeting

Monthly Meeting: 3rd Thursday of each month (except August), 7:30-8:30 a.m.

Simultaneous meetings in Eau Claire and River Falls. Specific date and location details on our Events Page

WisDOT Town Hall April 16 in Eau Claire

WisDOT’s traveling “Town Hall” meeting, “Transportation Moves Wisconsin,” comes to West Central Wisconsin this Wednesday evening with a session at UW-Eau Claire.

Transportation Moves Wisconsin
Wednesday, April 16, 5:00-6:30 p.m.
University of Wisconsin Eau Claire
Centennial Hall (new Education Building), Room 1614
Park Avenue at McKinley street, Eau Claire 54701

You are strongly encouraged to attend to provide input into our state’s transportation planning and funding priorities for the future. Here’s what to expect:

5:00-5:30 p.m. Open House format; tables, displays and a chance to talk with WisDOT staff
5:30-6:00 p.m. Presentation by WisDOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb
6:00-6:30 p.m. Q&A session with the Secretary

As a participant, you’ll also have the opportunity to submit a Comment Form about the state’s transportation priorities. This is an important opportunity to tell WisDOT if you believe passenger trains and other public transportation alternatives are important to our area of the state, and how you would actually use them.

The Rail Coalition believes participating in this process is very important. So, we will not be having a regular Coalition meeting in April and are strongly encouraging you to attend the Eau Claire Town Hall.

EC Chamber to Host Transportation Funding Forum Thursday

The Wisconsin Commission on Transportation Finance & Policy recently released recommendations to meet the state’s transportation needs for the next decade. Marty Hanson of Ayres Associates served on this commission and will present the findings and talk about where our state is currently at with funding recommendations. Thursday, February 28 from 8-9 a.m. at the Eau Claire Chamber office in the Charter Business Conference Room.

The event is FREE but registration is requested. Please RSVP by calling the Chamber office at (715) 834-1204 or click on the link at our Facebook page. Also follow us on Twitter

LaHood: DOT is not just about roads and bridges anymore. It’s about a comprehensive view of transportation.

“The people are way ahead of some of these politicians, and have been. It’ll be up to common, ordinary citizens to convince their leaders — whether it be mayors or governors or members of Congress — that a vision for transportation is not restricted to just roads and bridges. It has to be a wide, broad view of many alternatives.” — Outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in an interview with Streetsblog. See more on this and other relevant news on our Facebook page. Also follow us on Twitter

Rail boosters Talk Up Need for Passenger Service

From Mass Transit Magazine
Eric Lindquist
Source: The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis.
Created: October 24, 2012

Representatives of All Aboard Wisconsin painted a picture of a future combining the expansive rail network of the past with gleaming new high-speed trains that efficiently zip passengers from place to place as they access the Internet on their wireless…

Oct. 24 — The vision a newly formed passenger rail advocacy group shared Tuesday in Eau Claire could be summed up in four words: Back to the future.

Representatives of All Aboard Wisconsin painted a picture of a future combining the expansive rail network of the past with gleaming new high-speed trains that efficiently zip passengers from place to place as they access the Internet on their wireless devices.

“I think it’s going to have to happen,” said Mike McCoy, president of All Aboard Wisconsin, an alliance of state rail advocacy groups that launched early this year. “The need’s been there for a long time. It’s only grown greater and greater.”

McCoy was one of several people who spoke passionately about the need for more passenger rail service in Wisconsin at a forum attended by about 30 people Tuesday night at Chippewa Valley Technical College.

Scott Rogers of the West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition, said his organization believes demographic, economic, environmental and safety issues eventually will force the return of passenger rail service to Eau Claire, where the last passenger trains stopped running in 1963.

“It’s not just a bunch of rail buffs wishing for the steam engine to return,” said Rogers, whose goal is to be ready “when Wisconsin wises up” and resumes investing in passenger rail.
Service Touted

While McCoy, who has been promoting passenger rail for 25 years, acknowledged being frustrated at the slow pace of progress for the movement, he insisted he hasn’t lost any enthusiasm for the cause.

“We have better service today than we ever have, although it’s not nearly as good as we ought to have,” McCoy said, noting that Amtrak’s Empire Builder route from Chicago to Seattle has nearly a million passenger boardings a year at just its top five Wisconsin stations.

Demand would rise exponentially, he insisted, if the number of trains rose because more people would begin to think of rail as a viable form of transportation.

The Way to Travel

McCoy remains confident his vision of a vast and popular network of passenger trains will become a reality, in part because of all the problems associated with air, car and bus travel.

McCoy contrasted the rising cost and discomfort of air travel with the comfort and convenience of traveling by train, which offers the ability for passengers to get up and walk around and the opportunity to view the landscape, access wireless networks, partake in meal service and even get a bed on a long-distance trip. And after logging about 200,000 miles on Amtrak, McCoy knows something about hitting the rails.

Rail advocates hope last week’s 111 mph test run of a train on part of the route between Chicago and St. Louis, by providing a preview of the travel-time reductions that potentially ride along with high-speed rail, could help people get over the psychological hurdle of thinking of trains as key component of future transportation.

CVTC student Sara Chase of Eau Claire offered a personal illustration of how passenger rail could affect the economy and the next generation.

After graduation, the marketing management student would like to stay in Eau Claire where her family lives but expects to have to move to find the kind of job opportunities she is seeking.

“I would commute to the Twin Cities by train if I could, but since that’s not possible I’ll probably have to move,” Chase said, noting that she could be productive while riding a train versus “wasting” 90 minutes twice a day if she had to drive.

Painful Past

Though rail advocates were crushed two years ago when Gov. Scott Walker rejected $810 million in stimulus money the federal government had pledged to build a Milwaukee-to-Madison high-speed rail line intended to be the first leg of a high-speed route from Milwaukee to the Twin Cities, they’re intent on steering the train away from a political controversy.

“We’re talking fundamentally about the freedom to have travel options,” McCoy said, “and that’s not a partisan issue.”

Eric Lindquist · 715-833-9209 · 800-236-7077 · eric.lindquist@ecpc.com

Copyright 2012 · The Leader-Telegram · Eau Claire, Wis.

Passenger Rail Forum Oct 23 in Eau Claire

All Aboard Wisconsin Community Forum
“Where to you want to go by train?”
Tuesday, October 23, 7:00-9:00 p.m.
Chippewa Valley Technical College, Clairemont Campus
Business Education Center Commons, 620 W. Clairemont Ave.

Please join ALL ABOARD WISCONSIN at a Community Forum in Eau Claire to discuss the role of passenger trains in Wisconsin’s future. This is the second in a series of Community Forums we are hosting throughout Wisconsin. Our goal: to engage citizens in thoughtful, informed conversations about our transportation choices in the coming decades.

YOUR involvement is needed to help develop a statewide plan which includes intercity passenger train service – in conjunction with efficiently coordinated, handicap-accessible connections to other transportation choices like air travel, bus service, taxi, auto, and municipal transit.

ALL ABOARD WISCONSIN is an alliance of organizations and individuals promoting passenger trains and connecting transportation choices statewide as an integral part of Wisconsin’s and the nation’s travel network. In this Forum we’ll provide an overview of our existing transportation system, consider potential routes and destinations, and provide a big-picture vision of our passenger train future!

Sponsoring organizations: Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corp., West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition, Chippewa Valley Transit Alliance, Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers, All Aboard Wisconsin, Wis. Public Interest Research Group, Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups, League of Women Voters, Sierra Club, ProRail Madison, NEW Rails, Transit Now!, Midwest High Speed Rail Association, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Wisconsin Association of Taxicab Owners, Empire Builder High Speed Rail Coalition, Wisconsin Urban & Rural Transit Association

Owen Ayres 1925-2012

West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition Co-Chair, Owen Ayres, died on July 21 at the age of 87. Founder of the national engineering consulting firm, Ayres & Associates, he was also a former Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Bill Anderson, Rail Coalition Steering Committee Member, knew Owen well and penned the following tribute:

“On behalf of the members and friends of the West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition, we want to express our deepest sympathy to his family on his passing. To a person, we sincerely appreciate the wisdom and guidance Owen has contributed to the Coalition’s considerable success over the past 13 years as our Co-Chairman.

The formation of the WCWRC is largely due to Owen’s desire to do all things Eau Claire. He understood what our previous train service meant to the community, and he traveled on it frequently, but he also had the foresight to see how important it will again be as our travel needs have changed over time. So it was important to him to that he organize a small, interested group of attendees, following a public information presentation in Eau Claire regarding the newly organized Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, an organization involving nine Midwest states, Amtrak, and the Federal Railroad Administration and charged with developing a passenger rail system in the Midwest.

The WCWRC has met every month since that 1999 start, and by 2002, Owen had spearheaded meetings and discussions with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation which resulted in commissioning a nationally recognized rail consultant to study our area and make recommendations. The consultant’s report made it clear that a route including Eau Claire should be a part of that system.

Although we have not yet secured our train, it is inevitable that we will, and when that day arrives, it will be in great part due to Owen’s dedication and influence.

Personally, I enjoyed working with Owen on the development of the proposed Eau Claire Transportation Center, a new passenger rail depot which will include interchange with all others modes of transportation at the same site. His encouragement and support was truly appreciated.

But above all, we remember a modest and humble man who never talked of his own accomplishments, but was always quick to recognize those of others. He was a good friend and we will miss him very much.”

Beware the 18%

By Kevin Klinkenberg in the New Urbanism Blog May 22, 2012

For a lot of the last year, we’ve been focused on the evils of the 1%. The media has been filled with the exploits of the “Occupy” movement, and their emphasis on how 1% are keeping us down, harming the country, destroying the job market and much more.

I’ve got a different number that I’d rather we focus on – the 18%.

As individuals and a society, we are slaves to the 18%.

I speak not of the wealthy vs the poor, but of our own budgets, and how much we spend just getting around.

It’s one of the numbers that surprises people the most when put in context – that the average American household spends 18% of its after-tax budget on transportation. That’s second only to housing. Food comes in at 12%, and health care at 6%. Just consider that for a minute – we spend 3 times more on transportation than health care.

With all the discussion given over to health care at the political and national level, would you believe it is such a relatively small part of the average budget? How much airtime do we give to the vast amount more we spend on getting around? Will we ever see a Presidential debate focused on transportation?

Where do these numbers come from? The latest information is from a Department of Labor survey from 2010. Here’s a fantastic visual chart of the information:


Why do we pay so much? Very simply – because we are dependent on our cars to get us around. That’s why planners and urban designers like me use the phrase “auto-dependent” when referring to much of our cities and suburbs. In far too many places, it’s difficult at best to run the daily errands of life unless you are driving.

Digging deeper into the numbers, the AAA’s latest estimates (hardly a car-hating group) have the cost of owning a mid-size car at $9,519 per year, driving an average of 15,000 miles. Drive a bigger car, or more miles, and it’s higher than that. That number factors in all the necessary costs – average car payment, insurance, taxes, gas, maintenance, etc.

By contrast, the cost of walking is a pair of shoes. The cost of biking is a few hundred bucks a year for most riders. The cost of taking public transit is several hundred dollars (depending on your city), but still a fraction of car ownership.

Run the numbers on your own situation. For me, I currently don’t have a car payment, so I pay about 5% of after-tax income on transportation. But, since I have a car that’s 7 years old, I set aside money for large repairs and eventual replacement. When those are factored in, it comes to 12%. That’s still a high number, in my opinion. My goal is to have that consistently under 10%. Since I live in a place where I walk routinely, that’s a very doable goal.

I’m under no illusions that we can all suddenly ditch our cars, and walk everywhere – as I noted earlier, too many of our communities are not set up for that today. But what if you could reduce your car use, and walk/bike/take transit more? If you own one car, you likely can’t eliminate it, but you could certainly save 4 to 5 thousand dollars per year. What would you do with an extra $4,000 in your pocket?

If you are a multiple car household, what would happen if you could eliminate a car? Now you’re potentially talking savings of 10 thousand per year. Want that family vacation, or extra money for savings? There’s your ticket.

What would happen to our ability to pay for other items in our budgets if we spent even half of what we currently did on transportation (which incidentally would still be more than on health care).

Or, looking at it from another perspective, how much more easily could you maintain your current standard of living, on a reduced income? This is certainly the equation that’s worked well for me, as I detailed in my TedX Creative Coast presentation last week (link forthcoming). Reducing your household expenses has an amazing ability to provide for less stress, more leisure time and more disposable income.

More and more this sounds like a late-night infomercial – save money, live better!

Perhaps you can even join the legions of people embracing car sharing as a way of life. Zipcar, the leading provider (but by no means the only), has seen an increase in membership from 50,000 to over 600,000 in just the last 6 years. It seems more people, especially young people, are waking up to how much our enslavement to the car is costing us personally.

What’s your story? How much do you spend, and how much could you save? Can you join the growing movement to occupy your sidewalk, bike lane or bus?

May 31: Eau Claire Public Listening Session for Transportation Finance Commission

The Wisconsin Commission on Transportation Finance & Policy will hold a meeting and Public Listening Session in Eau Claire on Thursday, May 31, at Sacred Heart Hospital. There will be a Public Officials session from 3:00-4:00 p.m., and an open session for the public from 5:00-7:00 p.m.

According to the WisDOT website, The Wisconsin Commission on Transportation Finance and Policy was created in the 2011-2013 biennial state budget. The legislation called on the Commission to examine issues related to the future of transportation finance in Wisconsin, including the following:

* Highway maintenance, rehabilitation and expansion projects
* Local aid and assistance programs, including general transportation aids (GTA)
* Transportation fund revenue projections
* Transportation fund debt service
* Options to achieve balance between revenues, expenditures and debt service
* Impact of highway project planning on abutting property

The Commission has a study period of 10 years and is required to submit a report to the Governor and state legislative leadership by March 1, 2013.

There is also a link on the site to presentations at previous meetings and listening sessions.

An impetus for the forming of the Commission is the perfect storm approaching transportation funding in coming years, with declining gas tax revenues but increasing needs. Among appropriate comments to make to the body are anticipated trends and needs in Wisconsin transportation in the coming years, as well as how funding needs can be met. The February 16 meeting minutes and resources include a presentation by WisDOT staff projecting four different scenarios for 10-year funding needs. However, in the staff view even the most ambitious scenario assuming “Multi-Modal Enhancements” sees virtually no expansion in the role of passenger rail service over the next 10 years.

If you’re interested in providing remarks during the Public Listening Session, WisDOT says interested speakers will be asked to register at the meeting and will be called on to speak in the order in which they register. Remarks will be limited to 5 minutes, but unlimited written comments will also be accepted. For written comments, the Commission suggests providing 15 written copies for commissioners, and another 20-30 copies for the public.

The Commmission’s meeting and listening sessions will be held at the Community Auditorium at Sacred Heart Hospital, 900 W. Clairemont Ave., Eau Claire 54701.

Amtrak outlook: Running between Chicago and Dubuque by 2015

While Wisconsin’s once-leading plans to expand passenger rail are now on hiatus, other neighboring states continue to plan for new trains. Here’s an update from a Rockford Register-Star columnist on plans to restore Chicago-Rockford-Dubuque service:

By Chuck Sweeney

DUBUQUE, Iowa — George Weber, who heads the passenger rail division of the Illinois Department of Transportation, says passenger train service between Chicago and Dubuque, stopping at South Elgin, Rockford, Freeport and Galena with a possible stop in Lena, is on target to start in late 2014 or 2015.

Speaking at a meeting of the Tri State Alliance on Friday, a regional transport coalition among governments and chambers of commerce in eastern Iowa, southwestern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, Weber said the Canadian National Railway will have its cost analysis done in August, about six months later than it was supposed to be done.

The state has set aside $60 million to improve the freight-only line to a 79 mph speed limit. Weber said it’s important that the train be speed-competitive with the automobile.
Right now, the estimated time of five hours and 10 minutes is too slow, he said.

“The goal is to equal the time of the original Black Hawk,” Weber said. The Black Hawk’s route between Chicago and Dubuque took about four hours and 15 minutes.

That train ran from 1974 to 1981 and was discontinued, he said, because of declining ridership and poor on-time performance by the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad, which is now part of Canadian National.

Steve Ernst, who heads the Rockford Metropolitan Agency for Planning, asked Weber whether the new train’s name will be The Black Hawk, as the old train was named.

“Is there a better name?” Weber asked.

“No,” Ernst said.

“Then we’ll go with that,” said Weber. “It’s The Black Hawk.”

Passenger rail is historically the orphan child of IDOT, but not now. “We’re managing $4 billion in projects,” Weber said, including improving speeds between Chicago and St. Louis to 110 mph, equivalent to the speed of passenger trains in the 1950s and 1960s that were run by the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio.

IDOT is also developing passenger service between Chicago and the Quad Cities. Iowa transportation leaders hope to extend it across the state to Omaha, Neb., but there’s currently no funding for that part of the project, said Tammy Nicholson, director of the Iowa Department of Transportation’s rail office.

Weber said Illinois and California are ordering 130 new, bi-level passenger cars, all except 40 of which will go to Illinois trains. The new Black Hawk could feature the new cars, provided they’re not too tall to fit in the East Dubuque tunnel, Weber said. “I don’t think that will be a problem,” he said.

The daylong meeting took place in the historic Hotel Julien in renovated downtown Dubuque.

Reach Senior Editor Chuck Sweeny at 815-987-1366 or csweeny@rrstar.com.

Tour the Talgo Trains You Might Never Ride

From the Eye on Milwaukee blog By Jeramey Jannene at urbanmilwaukee.com – May 17th, 2012

The elegant Talgo trainsets ordered by the Doyle administration for the Amtrak Hiawatha are nearly complete. But will they ever be used?

Alas, Sunday is quite possibly the only day you will ever get to go inside them. Tours, children’s activities, and refreshments will be available at the Talgo assembly facility from noon until 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 20th. The facility is located in the Century City redevelopment area at 3533 North 27th Street. Off-site parking is available, with MCTS Routes 27 and 80 getting you there as well.

If you can’t make it Sunday, the trainsets are also currently visible from south side of the facility on W. Townsend Avenue between 27th and the railroad bridge.

Strategically ordered before federal high speed rail grants were announced, the purchase contract pushed Wisconsin to the top of the list and netted Wisconsin $810 million to extend the Hiawatha to Madison and buy more trainsets. Governor Walker’s campaign against the poorly marketed train resulted in the federal government re-appropriating the funds to other states.

The trainsets face an uncertain future following the State Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee decision to cancel funding for a permanent maintenance base for the equipment. It remains unclear if the state will put the trainsets into service utilizing the temporary maintenance base (the assembly facility), or mothball the trainsets once they’re complete (potentially violating their contract with Talgo).

Hopefully someday the trainsets will be in use in Wisconsin. Until then I’ll just shake my head at the insane series of decisions taken merely to score political points. I do look forward to seeing our former high-speed rail funds at work when I take the Amtrak Lincoln Service, a corridor being upgraded to higher speed rail, to St. Louis this summer.