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View from around the state: Train talk worth pursuing

It sounds good. Maybe a little too good.

A group of rail enthusiasts called All Aboard Wisconsin is exploring a passenger rail line between Madison and Chicago. The group says its idea wouldn’t require state or federal money. It could use existing tracks and start rolling in six to eight months at speeds approaching 80 mph.

Let’s keep the conversation going and see if a solid plan materializes.

With the group’s reasonable parameters, Madison and the state have little to lose. And the potential gain for our citizens and economy is a new and convenient connection to the Midwest’s largest city.

The central question is whether such a venture is financially feasible.

Gov. Scott Walker famously rejected more than $800 million in federal money for a higher-speed rail line from Milwaukee to Madison. His decision may have been smart politics, but it hurt Wisconsin jobs and business.

What’s most intriguing about All Aboard Wisconsin is that the private sector would lead the way. That should make the discussion more amenable to state leaders.

A similarly named effort called All Aboard Florida is serious about connecting Miami and Orlando with privately owned, operated and maintained passenger trains.

Previous efforts to link Madison to Chicago by passenger train have fizzled. But interest in rail may be growing.

About 928,000 people got on or off an Amtrak train in Wisconsin during the most recent year of data, according to All Aboard Wisconsin. That includes passengers on seven daily round trips between Milwaukee and Chicago. Amtrak also runs a long-distance train from Chicago through the Wisconsin cities of Columbus and La Crosse all the way to the West Coast.

All Aboard Wisconsin thinks a short-line rail company might find a Madison-to-Chicago route feasible. So they’re organizing a train ride this week to discuss the possibility. Madison Ald. Scott Resnick said Tuesday he plans to attend. So do a couple of dozen others from the Madison area.

“This won’t be easy to accomplish, but it’s something so many community partners believe in,” Resnick said this week. “It unleashes a new potential in both economic vitality and cultural experience between Madison and Chicago. Making an easier commute between the two cities unleashes a number of opportunities.”

He’s right. Let’s see if it can work.

— Wisconsin State Journal

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