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WisDOT seeking input on Amtrak Empire Builder expansion

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The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is soliciting public opinion on a proposed $53 million expansion of Amtrak’s Empire Builder route, which now runs between Chicago, Milwaukee and the Twin Cities.

The project will add a second daily round-trip on the 411-mile route that runs through Milwaukee, La Crosse and other small cities, and would add morning and mid-day service in Chicago and the Twin Cities. Currently, only one train operates on the route daily.

WisDOT’s solicitation of public comments marks another step forward for the route expansion. Last fall, federal officials contributed $31.8 million toward the project, leaving other partners, including Amtrak and WisDOT, to proide the remaining $21.2 million. A $12.6 million Federal Railroad Administration grant will also help offset Amtrak’s costs in the first year of operation.

“As the population ages and more and more young professionals and businesses consider moving to our states, the need for increased transportation options is vital to grow local economies and improve the quality of life,” said WisDOT Secretary-designee Craig Thompson, in a statement. “This project leverages the existing rail corridor and passenger rail service to significantly improve the value of this transportation option across the state. This not only serves major Midwestern cities, but many rural communities along the route.”

Construction could begin as soon as 2022, pending approvals, and service is to start in 2024.

The project would make several infrastructure improvements, including:

  • Improvements to railroad track, at-grade crossing, signal and communication infrastructure in Winona, Minnesota; La Crescent, Minnesota; and La Crosse to allow freight trains to bypass passenger trains and reduce delays.
  • Renovations to interior space at the former Amtrak Midway Station in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to serve as a crew base and layover and commissary site if necessary.

WisDOT is asking the public is to submit comments by April 9 using an online comment form at https://wisconsindot.gov/Pages/projects/multimodal/tcmc.aspx. Comments may also be mailed to: Attention Arun Rao, P.O. Box 7913, Madison, WI 53707.

About Nate Beck, [email protected]

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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