Wisconsin, Illinois Taking Input On Amtrak Expansion Between Milwaukee, Chicago

Potential $150M Price Tag Covers Increase In Trips, Infrastructure Improvements
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Eric Jacobi (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Wisconsin and Illinois are looking at potentially expanding the Amtrak service between Milwaukee and Chicago.

The two states are taking public comment on an environmental assessment for adding three round trips per day on Amtrak's Hiawatha Line, for a new total of 10 round trips each day.

The proposal is partly driven by increased ridership, now topping 807,000 rides a year, said Wisconsin Department of Transportation Passenger Rail Manager Arun Rao.

"Ridership has nearly doubled since the service went to seven round trips a day in 2003, so we're seeing significant growth," Rao said. "On some of the peak trains, we're seeing standing conditions."

The expansion could cost as much as $150 million because additional rail sidings, platforms and crossovers would be needed, Rao said. That's partly to keep the Amtrak trains on-time and separate from increased freight traffic, such as crude oil trains, he said.

Wisconsin and Illinois would seek federal money to help pay for the project, Rao said.

At a public meeting Thursday in Milwaukee, Madison resident Liz Wessel, who owns a green travel business, endorsed the proposed expansion.

"Expanded service only means more connectivity between our airports, the train station in Chicago,= more opportunities to travel in the corridor," Wessel said.

Oak Creek resident Patricia Jursik, a former Milwaukee County supervisor, said the potential $150 million price tag is relatively inexpensive compared to adding capacity on I-94 between Milwaukee and Chicago. She said she takes the Hiawatha Line for recreational travel to Chicago, and doesn't care for costly parking fees in the Windy City.

The potential expanded service would not happen for a few years, according to the state DOT.

Other public listening sessions are from:

  • 4-7 p.m. Tuesday, at Union Station, 500 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago, Illinois.
  • 5-8 p.m. Wednesday, at Park Center, 2400 Chestnut Ave., Glenview, Illinois.
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