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Freight line work should be full speed ahead

By Ann Knoedler

At the risk of sounding completely clueless, I’ll just come right out and admit that I didn’t realize the extent that freight rail line — or the lack thereof — could still affect the prosperity of a community.

I just assumed that as long as there were enough trucks businesses could succeed by shipping on the highways.

But, there are communities in the state that have had a very difficult time attracting industrial and manufacturing businesses since freight rail service to their regions was discontinued.

For instance, it’s been a nearly 30-year dry spell for the southwest communities of Browntown, South Wayne, Gratiot, Darlington and Mineral Point. The Wisconsin and Southern Railroad Co. reports that businesses have approached them, stating their willingness to invest “millions of dollars” in agricultural industrial facilities in southwest Wisconsin, if they had access to rail lines.

Wisconsin has been purchasing and rebuilding abandoned freight lines for many years now. In fact The Wisconsin Department of Transportation administers two freight rail assistance programs: the Freight Rail Preservation Program and the Freight Rail Infrastructure Improvement Program.

This rail assistance program is helping Sheboygan County right now.

There’s a freight rail corridor in Sheboygan County that has not been used for 20 years and the communities there need it restored to seal the deal with businesses that rely on rails for shipping. It appears that, finally, after about two years of working with the state and the feds, it is going to happen.

Last May the state acquired a 10.9-mile stretch of abandoned Union Pacific rail line from the rail yard in the city of Plymouth to about the middle of Kohler. And in September they awarded a $12 million grant to WSOR for the $15 million project to have the line rebuilt. WSOR will provide the additional $3 million from local communities. Right now the city of Plymouth and WSOR are drafting a lease agreement.

The construction start for this project is still up in the air. It could be this fall, but then again it could be pushed back to spring of 2011, depending on how soon the lease agreement, the $3 million local match, and the project engineering/bid specs are finalized.

On a positive note: Did you know that one train car can haul one ton of freight 436 miles on one gallon of diesel fuel?

One comment

  1. Dear Anne – As I do not regularly read the Daily Reporter, I did not see your April 29, 2010 article until today. First the kudos. You did report almost verbatim the WSOP publicity line. I thought reporters for the DR check for complete information before their articles hit the public. Just a couple of facts you can check on before you attempt to cover this story again.

    1. Look at the economic impact study report done on this project by the WisDOT. It is so full of bogus material I doubt if anyone from the DOT would stand up in front of the public to answer questions. After two months of asking for facts re: 4200 + sic companies within five miles of the line I was sent a list of maybe one quarter of the names and was told they realized even most of these were not possible users. Many other companies listed were from Plymouth and had no desire to ship 10 miles to Sheboygan Falls. Other facts like the tonnage reported really had nothing to do with the line in question.

    2. When asked about an Environmental Impact Study, Mr. Frank Huntington of WisDOT told me there was no need. When I sent him copies of statutes that said he was wrong, again six weeks later and a number of calls and e-mails he agreed that a study had to be done before the project could start. He asked the WSOP to do the study. Talk about the fox guarding the hen house. Thankfully the Federal Government has put the whole project on hold.

    3. The mayor of Plymouth, working behind the backs of the tax payers and the Common Council, professed to have a company worth $45-65 million that would use the line and hire up to 450 new workers. He would not identify the company. But, he insisted the rail line was needed before the company would agree to relocate. Since that time the company which worked in a rented warehouse with 20 employees has gone bankrupt.

    You talk about restoring service that was stopped in 2006. The fact does not include this particular line they are looking to restore. It has been dormant for 30 years. The line you are talking about only serviced Kohler Company from the east, and has nothing to do with the line going west to Plymouth.

    I have back-up on any of the facts I have stated plus more, if you really want to report on both sides of the argument.

    Thank you for your time.

    Jim Bordeau
    [email protected]

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