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Hiawatha line sees record ridership as state says ‘sayonara’ to its rail

A train on Amtrak's Hiawatha line pulls into the Milwaukee station during a recent run. The line is reporting record ridership in 2010. (File photo by Kevin Harnack)

A train on Amtrak's Hiawatha line pulls into the Milwaukee station during a recent run. The line is reporting record ridership in 2010. (File photo by Kevin Harnack)

By Marie Rohde

Although the high-speed rail connection between Milwaukee and Madison appears to have been derailed, the train connection between Chicago and Milwaukee seems to be zipping along.

Amtrak, the federal government’s national passenger railroad, reports record ridership between our fair city and our neighbor to south.

Marc Magliari, a spokesman for Amtrak in Chicago, said those riding the rail jumped nearly 6 percent from 738,231 passengers in 2009 to 783,060 in 2010. The boom is not an anomaly, he said, noting that the increase during the past five years has been 49 percent.

The popular Hiawatha line runs seven times a day between Milwaukee and Chicago (except on Sunday when there are six runs). That makes the run Amtrak’s ninth-most popular, he said.

A one-way ticket on the regular-speed train costs $22.

Rail proponents like Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn assert the increased ridership is an indicator of interest in expanding high-speed rail connections throughout the Midwest.

Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s governor-elect, remains firm in his position that the high-speed connection between Milwaukee and Madison — an important part of the ultimate connection between Chicago and Minneapolis — is an unnecessary burden on taxpayers.

Marie Rohde is a staff writer at The Daily Reporter. She was looking forward to taking the train to Minneapolis but now is entertaining thoughts of hopping a freight train.

8 comments

  1. Riding the train to Chicago is a great way to avoid traffic and time if you are going to a particular area of Chicagoland near a train station.

    Traffic and time to drive to and from Milwaukee to Madison is not much of an issue now is it?

    We are with you Scott. We do not need to add $7.5 million to our yearly state budget.

  2. “Riding the train to Chicago is a great way to avoid traffic and time if you are going to a particular area of Chicagoland near a train station. Traffic and time to drive to and from Milwaukee to Madison is not much of an issue now is it?”

    How about the traffic and time between Madison and Chicago?! Because the so-called Milwaukee-Madison train is/was/will be an extension of the existing Hiawatha trains to Madison, not a stand-alone operation.

  3. “Traffic and time to drive to and from Milwaukee to Madison is not much of an issue now is it?”

    It can be… especially in wintery conditions or when there are ALWAYS ROAD MAINTENENCE PROJECT$ EVERY FRICKIN’ YEAR. No wonder they can afford to pay off Scotty to stop the rail project.

  4. Again …. there never was any desire or plan for a “Milwaukee-Madison train”, and it’s genuinely beyond comprehension how some people just do not grasp the concept that Milwaukee-Madison is one small link, only the first in the St. Louis-Chicago-Milwaukee-Twin Cities HSR Line, and how it’s going to be built with or without Wisconsin being part of it, and how that $810 million will still be used to build it.

    If “Concrete Scott” Walker succeeds in his plan to destroy Wisconsin’s participation, the line will still leave Chicago northward but then swing west through Rockford, Galesburg and Dubuque before heading noth to the Twin Cities through Iowa and Minnesota.

    And Wisconsin will again continue its decades-old tradition of paying for other states’ rail services without seeing one iota of the benefits.

    And “Concrete Scott” Walker will have to refund all the money the state has spent to date, adding injury to insult.

  5. When all these other states run out of federal money and the projects are far from completion because of cost overuns the state taxpayers are stuck paying the rest of the bill .
    New Jersey residents were responsible for only change orders on there tunnel the governor pulled the plug when overuns alone cost them 650 million. Think about the big dig in Boston and how those costs became the responsibility of local taxpayers.

    Twenty years from now when people are still paying for this train fiasco all the people that clamored for it will be retired and living in a state with lower taxes because living in a state with rail we not be affordable for them.

  6. John,

    If you do not want to drive the more direct route from Madison to Chicago via Rockford, you could drive from Madison to Milwaukee (no traffic) and then hop on the existing train.

    Abe,

    The train infrastructure requires maintenace each year as well. Given 100 times more people will use the freeway than will EVER use the train, one might expect more maintenance.

    Karen,

    There is a train that goes from Chicago to the Twin Cities. Since the new train is not to be considered a “commuter train”, who do you expect to use it? Are there throngs of people in St. Louis just dying to get to the Mall of America? If they do hop on your train they will fly right through Wisconsin at such a high speed (cough cough) that they will not have time to stop and spend any money here.

  7. “She was looking forward to taking the train to Minneapolis but now is entertaining thoughts of hopping a freight train.”

    No need for a freight train, the Empire Builder runs daily from Chicago to Milwaukee and Minneapolis already!
    http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/ContentServer/AM_Route_C/1241245653623/1237405732511

  8. I’m a conservative Republican AND train rider from New Jersey and I have to say, your Scott Walker is looking pretty foolish from out here by turning down jobs and this great economic development opportunity.

    Those of us who use trains for business and personal travel often out here on the east coast are really pulling for you, Wisconsin. Fight for real transit CHOICE and FREEDOM from cars and foreign oil dependence! Also, train travel is easy once you get used to it. You don’t know what you are missing…

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