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Cities seek balance between road and rail

Sean Ryan

High-speed trains stopping six times a day in Brookfield and Oconomowoc carry the promise of new developments around rail stations in those cities.

But when those trains stop, so too will the traffic on nearby roads. It’s a downside of the Madison to Milwaukee rail line that is not lost on development planners in the cities.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s plan for a high-speed rail line between Madison and Milwaukee calls for stations to be built in Watertown, Oconomowoc and Brookfield.

In Oconomowoc, the two potential locations for a train depot are near the two main routes into downtown: Main and Silver Lake streets. Oconomowoc rebuilt and realigned streets to provide better access to the downtown, but when passenger trains stop they could close one or both streets, said Bob Duffy, Oconomowoc director of economic development.

The city now must figure out how long those roads will be blocked when the trains stop, Duffy said. Once city officials get the timing down, they can weigh that cost against the opportunity of luring people to live near a station or attracting those who want to ride trains to Oconomowoc for events or shopping.

“We need the information to make an informed decision to make sure that that’s the case,” Duffy said of benefits outweighing costs, “because, obviously, after that happens and everybody walks away, it becomes a situation for us as a community to have to solve.”

WisDOT in December sent out a request for engineers to perform environmental studies, including traffic analyses, for new high-speed rail stations in Madison, Watertown, Oconomowoc and Brookfield. Those stations, plus the Milwaukee Intermodal Station, will be the only stops on the new passenger service the state will build with an $810 million federal grant, said John Oimoen, WisDOT project director for the high-speed rail project.

The state has $24 million to pay for the station projects.

After WisDOT chooses an engineer, the company will work with communities to plan the new stations, Oimoen said. That will include working with fire and police departments around the stations to trace alternate routes when trains block roads, he said.

“The actual train time at the stations will be minimal,” Oimoen said. “That overall time will be between two and four minutes.”

Brookfield’s proposed station location served passenger trains until the route closed in the 1960s. Since then, the city has built a public works building near Brookfield Road and River Drive, where the old depot was and the new depot will be built, said Dan Ertl, Brookfield’s director of community development.

The city, in planning for the rail project, will study traffic to see what the effect will be if trains are parked across Brookfield Road to load passengers, he said.

The stopping time does not make any difference to Watertown, Mayor Ron Krueger said. The railroad passes over Church Street, the road along which the city’s station will be built, he said. He said he was in high school when WisDOT built Church Street, also Highway 26, under the railroad to avoid conflicts.

“We will not interfere with vehicular traffic at all,” he said.

Duffy said he will ask WisDOT how long roads must be closed as the trains pass and what can be done to decrease that time or allow either Oconomowoc’s Main or Silver Lake streets to remain open if the other is closed. The city is used to trains passing through town — more than 20 freight trains go through the city each day — but planners must determine how new lines will affect traffic, he said.

“Most people are pretty much used to it,” he said. “Obviously, our concern is we don’t want it to back up.”


Milwaukee train station renovation planned


  1. Let’s see if I have this right: Oconomowoc and Brookfield are long used to over 20 lengthy freight trains a day blocking grade crossings, but they’re worried about a high-speed passenger train that will stop for, at most, what, one minute or so to load and unload people?

  2. The Milwaukee station location is off in the graphic.

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