THE WEST CENTRAL WISCONSIN PASSENGER RAIL CORRIDOR is roughly a 180 mile route, which follows Union Pacific’s existing single-tracked main line from Camp Douglas west to Hudson, and then enters Minnesota with its final destination in St. Paul. Terrain along this upland route varies from flat to rolling. Much of the route keeps to long straight-aways allowing for better average speeds and overall performance. UP continues to make track upgrades to provide good working order for its freight trains. Further upgraded tracks, ties, roadbed and two 10-mile sidings would allow for smooth, frequent passenger trains running at 80 to 110 mph. Fast trains along this route are nothing new. The famous “400” passenger train traveled through on the Chicago and North Western’s Wisconsin main line.
The rail corridor service territory (see map below) includes over 580,000 people and the fastest growing county in Wisconsin—St. Croix. This compares to 270,000 residents along Amtrak’s existing Empire Builder line from Camp Douglas to La Crosse. The abundance of state universities and technical colleges along the West Central Wisconsin route could address travel needs for nearly 35,000 students. Another segment, commuters, could also use the line connecting to metropolitan areas like Minneapolis/St. Paul and Eau Claire. Nearly 50% of St. Croix County residents already commute into the Twin Cities. A 2004 WisDOT Origin-Destination Study for Eau Claire-Chippewa Falls revealed that 1 out of every 5 daily trips on all highways in the metro area have an origin or destination of the Twin Cities. The I-94 St. Croix River bridge crossing is the second busiest border crossing in the state and holds 84% of all state truck commerce. I-94 ADT traffic volumes in 2000 from Roberts to Baldwin were slightly more than Madison to Milwaukee (38,100 v. 37,900).
The line also has the opportunity to create more economic development in the state. For example, there is well over 2,000 acres currently available in industrial and business parks located in communities adjacent to the line. The corridor is home to roughly 250,000 jobs and has the obvious potential to expand beyond 2016 projections of 270,000 (EMSI data) if high speed rail becomes a reality.
Numerous advantages of the West Central Wisconsin corridor make it a clear choice as the state evaluates routes for its share of the Midwest Regional Rail System Initiative. Studies like the Intercity Passenger Rail Corridors Feasibility Study already demonstrate such a line would add financial viability to the overall system. But statistics alone won’t make passenger rail a reality. Help bring it back to West Central Wisconsin by voicing your support.