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Waterloo weighs its rail options

(Map by Rick Benedict/The Daily Reporter)

(Map by Rick Benedict/The Daily Reporter)

By Sean Ryan

Waterloo is waiting on a train, but not the high-speed version likely to be first to pass through the city.

Commuter rail, on the other hand, has captured the city’s attention and, in some cases, support.

“Follow the money,” said Bill Hogan, president of the Waterloo Chamber of Commerce. “Obviously, I think the commuter rail, at least in my opinion, brings an economic benefit to the community, whereas high-speed rail doesn’t.”

A railroad through the center of the city would be rebuilt as part of the Madison-to-Milwaukee high-speed rail project. Rebuilding that track also is necessary if commuter trains, which are slower and stop more often, are ever going to run on the same route.

“Both scenarios, high-speed and commuter, I think have the potential to benefit the whole economic development option for all communities that exist along the corridor,” said Mark Joslyn, spokesman for Trek Bicycle Corp., Waterloo.

The high-speed rail project is moving forward after the federal government gave the state $810 million in stimulus money.

Commuter rail, while promising, likely would come much later, said Waterloo Alderwoman Laura Cotting.

“Commuter rail for me,” she said, “is still a whole lot of ifs.”

The detailed plans for high-speed rail are concerning city residents. The project plan does not include a Waterloo station and would close some roads that cross the tracks.

That spawned a city resolution and local petition to encourage the state to modify its plan.

Wisconsin Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson, on Friday introduced a bill asking the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to study the potential of putting a station in Waterloo on the Madison-to-Milwaukee high-speed line.

If Waterloo wants to talk about commuter service, the Dane County Regional Transit Authority is willing to listen. The RTA has discussed running commuter trains east out of Madison, but it is all conceptual at this point, said Dick Wagner, RTA chairman.

Communities such as Waterloo outside Dane County can vote to join the RTA and pay taxes to the authority to be included in commuter rail service, he said.

“If another community wants to approach us,” he said, “I’m sure we’ll be happy to speak with them.”

Joslyn said Trek is neutral on high-speed versus commuter rail because both have costs and benefits. A commuter rail stop might make more sense in town, he said, simply because Waterloo only has about 3,300 people.

If every community between Madison and Milwaukee gets a high-speed train stop, it won’t exactly be high-speed service, he said.

“We see how it could benefit,” he said of the high-speed service, “and we also see the disruption it would cause, and we own land by the corridor.”

Check out all of our high-speed rail stories, photos and at dailyreporter.com/rail

Joslyn is part of a Waterloo task force weighing  the different rail options, including whether they will spur new development and move workers in and out of Waterloo.

Trek, he said, has 1,000 employees and many likely would support any rail service with a stop in Waterloo. Whether their use of the train would result in real economic growth, he said, is questionable.

“Most of our people are established right now in where they live and where they work,” he said. “The key would be new business development.”

Cotting said there are a lot of benefits for commuter rail service and a lot of negatives associated with high-speed service.

“As they stand right now,” she said, “for high-speed rail, there is no economic benefit, only costs.”

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