The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) recently released a proposal to extend passenger rail services to Madison, Watertown and Waukesha County, as well as to extend the Amtrak Hiawatha service to Green Bay by the year 2050. The plans would require leveraging funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
After improvements to Wisconsin’s rail service, agency officials said it could increase ridership by around 250,000 people in the next 10 years and attract 1.6 million passengers in 2050, according to the WisDOT Wisconsin Rail Plan 2050.
The agency supported plans for passenger rail service to the Madison metropolitan area, Waterton and Waukesha County, according to the plan. Agency officials said studies to include rail service to connect cities with Milwaukee, Chicago, the Twin Cities in Minn., or all three have been included for more than 30 years. Only intercity buses connect Madison to train service in Milwaukee, Chicago and Columbus, officials added.
According to Madison’s 2050 regional transportation plan, city officials called for inter-regional travel opportunities to be maintained and expanded as well.
“While intercity-bus options are currently available, buses lack a common terminus and often lack good connections to local bus routes. Further, inter-city passenger rail service is unavailable locally, requiring a drive of approximately 40 minutes from downtown Madison to reach the nearest Amtrak station in Columbus or a longer bus ride to Milwaukee or Chicago,” according to the Connect Greater Madison 2050 Regional Transportation Plan.
WisDOT officials added their support for extending the existing Amtrak Hiawatha Service to the Green Bay area through more trains on the existing rail connection between Milwaukee and Chicago. Increasing the number of trains from seven to 10 on the current route would let the Hiawatha service reach Green Bay without affecting service. Currently, an intercity bus route connects the Green Bay area with other locations.
Similarly, Brown County officials said the added rail service would reduce residents’ dependency on cars and “enhance the attractiveness of public transit to metropolitan area residents.”
“The Green Bay Metropolitan Area communities do not currently have access to passenger rail service, but a high-speed passenger rail line extended to the Green Bay Metropolitan Area is included in the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative (MRRI) plan. If this service is implemented, it will provide another means for area residents to travel throughout the Midwest without using their personal vehicles. The implementation of this service will also enhance the attractiveness of public transit to metropolitan area residents by enabling them to use the bus to reach what will likely be the area’s primary MRRI terminal in downtown Green Bay,” according to the updated Green Bay Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) 2045 Long-Range Transportation Plan.
As previously reported by The Daily Reporter, mayors in some Fox Valley cities and Green Bay wrote a letter to the federal government expressing support for an Amtrak railroad route from Milwaukee to Green Bay. The hopes for the project are balanced on funds for passenger rail expansion under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which President Joe Biden signed in 2022.