Jeramey Jannene

Waukesha County Will Love High-Speed Rail

By - Feb 25th, 2010 12:19 pm

The residents of Waukesha County will love the Madison to Milwaukee high-speed rail line once it’s up and running, and not for any reason that readily jumps out at you.  Certainly residents of Waukesha County will likely use the train to get to Madison, but that’s not a big sell to the residents. Taking a train from Brookfield or Oconomowoc to the Madison Airport just isn’t all that appealing because of the distance. What is appealing though? First-class comfort from Milwaukee’s western suburbs to the heart of Chicago.

It’s all about Chicago, the capital of the Midwest. It always has been. The $823 million in federal funds isn’t about building a connection between Milwaukee and Madison, it’s about growing the link between those two cities and Chicago. There will be plenty of riders between Milwaukee and Madison, but viewing the line as simply a system for that is extremely misguided. Trains that originate in Madison will terminate in Chicago and vice versa.

What does that mean for residents of Waukesha County? A simple drive to a suburban rail station with free parking. Jump on a train with seats far more comfortable and spacious than what Midwest Airlines formerly offered. Pop open that laptop, hop on the wifi network, and enjoy a stress-free ride into The Loop in Chicago. Riders will be able to rack up billable hours, get caught up on email, read a book, or sleep. All options that are nearly impossible when driving. Get off the train and head to your destination in the heart of Chicago, by foot, cab, or another transit option.

Residents of Waukesha County have been able to accomplish this by driving to downtown Milwaukee and getting on the train at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station. That’s worked exceptionally well to-date, with ridership doubling on the Hiawatha over the past 10 years. The Madison high-speed line will extend the existing Hiawatha line through Waukesha County with a stop in Brookfield and Oconomowoc, making the trip shorter and more convenient, with increased service frequency. What’s not to like about a frequent, first-class train line with a stop close to your house with free parking?

If that’s not enough, the next planned extension to Minneapolis/St. Paul through Madison with potential stops in Wisconsin Dells, La Crosse, and Eau Claire will help increase the utility of the line.


36 thoughts on “Waukesha County Will Love High-Speed Rail”

  1. Mike Poe says:

    You are absolutely right Jeramey, this new service is not 100 percent about Milwaukee to Madison. If it were it would not have enough riders, like so many say is the biggest flaw.

    A project such as this is not successful overnight, it needs to grow and people need to get used to having a train. We really don’t have many at the moment.

    I really hope once the service gets going, the area around the Milwaukee Intermodal Station builds up a bit. If that drop is going to be the gateway into Milwaukee, we have some work to do.

  2. Nick Aster says:

    Super nitpickly detail – Chicago is the CAPITAL, not the CAPITOL of the midwest. The latter spelling is only used to describe the building. Easy to remeber since most capitols have domes, and domes are round, like an “o”.

  3. Michael Anderson says:

    Well done and well said. There’s got to be a vision for the region and this helps create one.

  4. Kevin K says:

    I like this article. Although I may not agree with this on the Federal Level, I disagree with Scott Walker and other WI Republicans who say we shouldn’t take the funds. Sure, the fedral government can afford this like a homeless man can afford a new Ferrari. However, if they’re going to financially shipwreck themselves, we’d might as well get a new train line out of it. After all, the $823mil is going to go somewhere so it might as well go here in WI.

  5. Jeff Jordan says:

    Transit options like this are an investment in the future. I agree that many of us will use this option to get to Chicago and, down the road, Minneapolis and Green Bay. But what it also says is that the federal government is beginning to realize the automobile has reached it’s useful limits in the total transportation scene and if we are to continue to succeed as a society we have to provide viable and attractive options to travel and commerce.
    I challenge anyone to see the usefulness of flying from MIlwaukee to Chicago if your not getting a connecting flight. Driving it is a nightmare.
    The person that wants to use their car for such travel still has the option to do it, but the penalty in time and cost is going to become apparent and the will to do so is going to be challenged. We are going to lean that, given a even playing filed, Public Transit is a better societal investment than individual travel.

  6. big toe says:

    Uh, sorry to burst your bubble, but all the people I know that actually live here in Waukesha DO NOT want this train!!!

    You lefties need to put down the doobie and stop pushing this crap on others, particularly those who consider 800+ million tax dollars real money that should not be pissed away on this overhyped, sure-to-be money losing train.

    “After all, the $823mil is going to go somewhere so it might as well go here in WI.”

    Proof that there’s plently of tax-cutting and spending reductions to be done when we get some politicians elected that are not puppets of the special interest.


    I don’t know the last time some of you have driven to Chicago, but I’ve driven it twice in the last month and it was smooth sailing.

  7. Tristen says:

    This is an article related to this by Dustin J. Klein (candidate, State Assembly, District 24)
    CHECK IT OUT so you know who to vote for this election!

  8. SS says:

    > Trains that originate in Madison will terminate in Chicago and vice versa.

    I haven’t read anywhere that the actual train will continue to Chicago. I thought these trains were owned and operated by the State, I would think you would need to transfer at the Milwaukee station.

    It’s nice to finally read someone almost admitting the train doesn’t make sense connecting to Madison (Dane County Regional Airport). I disagree though that this is going to be an appealing option for Waukesha residents traveling to Chicago. It’s impossible for the Brookfield or Oconomowoc stations to be convenient for *everyone* since the residents are pretty spread out. Given the time it would take to drive to the station, you might as well drive to the Milwaukee station (or Mitchell airport station) and save money and time. If indeed you can actually stay on the train in route to Chicago after it stops in Milwaukee, that by far is the only positive aspect I’ve heard about this proposed line.

  9. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @Nick I debated that as I quickly worked to finish it, and then passed it off to Dave to proofread. Walked to the Post Office immediately afterward, debated if I was correct or not, made a mental note to double check, and then completely forgot. Thanks for pointing it out.

  10. Dave Reid says:

    @Jeramey Yup, my fault…

  11. JLB says:

    To comment #6–it’s ok that that you don’t want the train and will likely never patronize it; plenty of other people will. To say that building/rebuilding essential transportation infrastructure is pissing away money is just a funny way to say you don’t want your taxes going toward something you don’t plan on using. But right now, your precious tax dollars go towards maintaining highways you might never drive on, schools you don’t send your children to, etc. That doesn’t mean that you’re getting ripped off by the government. No one is going to come steal your car and force you at gun point to board the train. But we’ll be sure to wave to ya when you’re stopped at a grade crossing and us doobie smoking liberals are highballing to Chicago.

  12. colucci says:

    @big toe:

    I’d rather be a dope smoking Leftie than a crack smoking Rushpublican. Over the past 2 months I’ve had business in Chicago that’s required me to make about a dozen trips. Most times I took the train, but I had to drive three times. After the first two times during which I experienced lock down traffic BOTH TO AND FROM the city, I finally decided to just eat supper in Chicago and drive home late at night. At 8pm is sure was smooth sailing…

    I much prefer relaxing on the train to and from Chicago and even getting a little work done. Oh yeah and it saves my company money since the mileage reimbursement is higher than the round trip ticket. But we all know Rushplublicans don’t care about business or money.

    The $800M train upgrade is going to be fantastic. And like Jeramey said it’s all about Chicago. The Madison airport stop is there because the train goes there already. And when I can take the train to Mpls I will celebrate with many a beers aboard the Empire Builder – try doing that on your 5 hour drive..


  13. Michael James says:

    Maybe this track could one day be used for a commuter / light rail line; Oconomowoc to Milwaukee when not being used by the Amtrak? I know this perhaps sounds ridicules (especially to conservatives) but hear me out…

    It will cost money to build the train, and possibly a subsidy to keep it going, and I’m worried about this, and also worried about the train stopping at the Madison airport rather than downtown, but…

    We should be thinking about the future. Gas prices can not remain low forever, and the US population is expected to grow from 300 mil to 400 mil by 2050. The US could continue it’s urban sprawl, turning all of our farm land / green space into a giant suburb, or, increase population density, in which case trains (and other public transportation) become a much more convenient option for travel.

    I lived in Milwaukee for most of my life, but am currently in Asia, where the general consensus is (even among conservatives) that trains are great for the economy. The population density here is of course much different, but the US will look much different in 50 years. I think a good rail system would serve Milwaukee / the Midwest very well in years to come.

    Also, I was wondering, in the 1.5 years I have been gone, has the drive to Chicago really become “smooth sailing?”

  14. SS says:

    > Maybe this track could one day be used for a commuter / light rail line; Oconomowoc to Milwaukee when not being used by the Amtrak?

    There’d need to be a separate set of tracks. Not to mention there’s no demand for a commuter line either. There’s already Coach USA buses that run from the park-and-ride lots to downtown and they still get state subsidies to operate. What is an expensive trainset going to accomplish?

    > We should be thinking about the future. Gas prices can not remain low forever

    Honestly, we’ve heard that for 40 years. And the market has worked and adapted. Cars have become more efficient, and if you haven’t noticed, every car manufacturer is working on electric powered cars, so gas prices are going to become less of a concern in the future.

    > the US population is expected to grow from 300 mil to 400 mil by 2050

    So we’re going to build a train 40 years early? And how much of that 100mil is going to be moving into Milwaukee? Or even Wisconsin? US population growth is in the south, where there are jobs, low taxes, and good weather.

    The reason many US cities are shrinking has nothing to do with lack of trains. The problem is the cities have been so mismanaged that people don’t want to live there anymore. In Milwaukee, the #1 reason is the schools suck (the vast majority). You’re never going to have growth here until people have options for schooling.

    This project should NOT be judged on what it “could” be used for, or what “might” happen. This is a serious amount of money, with millions more needed every year to operate it. Does a train between Milwaukee and the Madison airport make any sense? If not, then don’t try to justify it with all these stupid “what if” situations.

  15. Michael James says:

    Just one more “stupid” “what if” um, “situation”…

    Q “What if” no one ever thought in terms of “what if”?…

    A We would still be living in caves and huts… but at least there would be no taxes!!!!

  16. Johnny B says:

    Those posting here who want WI taxpayers to subsidize their train ticket to Chicago are acting the fool. This ain’t rocket science. If you don’t want to put up with heavy traffic and long commutes to Chicago, here is a brilliant idea, either MOVE TO CHICAGO or WORK CLOSER TO MILWAUKEE. There are already *ahem* decent trains in Chicago, which they have a hard time funding to operate smoothly, so your crowd will fit right in with all that “fun”. Also, why do you need to live in Waukesha so badly, and then commute almost 2hrs each way when all is said and done? Talk about wasteful. The trains would not go straight through to Chicago either. You have to drive to the station, take a train to Milwaukee, transfer, take an hour long train to Kenosha, transfer, then make multiple stops on the Metra. One week of that crap and you will just say screw it and do what I suggested. Move to Chicago and enjoy your congested and highly cultured hotdog and porky pizza lifestyle.

  17. Dave Reid says:

    @Johnny B Couple things. First, all transportation is subsidized. Trains, planes, and yes automobiles. Secondly, this article is about HSR which would will not require driving to Kenosha and transferring, it will have stops in (stops going west), MKE, MKE Airport, 2 in between, then downtown Chicago. Downtown to downtown at 1 to 1.5 hours (current travel time is 1.5 hours so the upgrade will push it towards 1 hour).

  18. Paul Zirk says:

    David- exactly you are dead on. People can ask how a train will pay for itself, but I never hear them ask how the Marquette Xchange, Zoo Xchange or the revamp of the I to Ill will pay for “itself”. As a taxpayer, I would much rather have my tax money be used towards something that I would use such as the train or a more advanced transit system in Milwaukee. I’ve lived by Marquette, the Eastside & now Bayview and I actually find it my civic duty to ride the bus to work downtown. Unfortunately I work with people who live in Juneau Village or the 3rd Ward and drive every day the 8 to 10 blocks to work. There is nothing wrong with people who want to drive, but I chose to live in a city, which is part of something larger. The whole purpose of living in this area is to share interactions with people and become something more than “ourself”. We live for the greater good, whether its better schools (MPS may be poorly rated, but there are classes offered that I could have never dreamed of), more exposure to cultural experiences (knuckleheads- whatever that may be- and all), and of course to provide better mass transit for all its residents. I feel strongly that people who are anti-mass-transit (excluding interstates) and choose to live in this metro region, are not willing to be members of that experience. At that point, just move to the real rural parts where I came from, where farming is a poverty line career, schools truly focus on the 3 R’s and where yes, one does drive on gravel roads occasionally Let’s see where that gets you. Right or wrong, I do not feel that the future will ask why we wasted so much on a train versus why we did nothing.

  19. The last time 4 of us went to Chicago we looked into taking the train, but it was cheaper to drive there. If the train was a reasonable price, I’d consider it for going from Waukesha County to downtown Milwaukee… as long as I can take my tripod and 2 large cases with equipment (and 2 grips!) for cheaper than driving…

  20. Jeramey Jannene says:


    By the time you get to 4, I can see how it can be cheaper to drive. Not more comfortable and laid back, but certainly cheaper.

    I don’t think the service will ever be priced to be cheap from Brookfield to downtown Milwaukee, that’s not the type of passenger they are seeking. If commuter rail was put in place, that’s the ideal case where the pricing will match. Likewise you don’t see anyone take the train from downtown Milwaukee to the Milwaukee airport, the pricing and service just isn’t setup in that fashion.

  21. Jerrod says:

    You keep mentioning free parking. That’s cool. But what will the cost of the ride be? I understand that it will be about $
    30 from Milwaukee to Madison. If so, when I travel with my family of 4, the cost will not be worth it. “Billable hours?” What will that mean to me in dollar terms. To be honest, It sounds like that will cost me a lot of money. I would much rather drive my car, park where I want to and pay for gas rather than paying a cabbie, or riding a bus to get where I want. It sounds to me like I will save time, and money driving my car.

  22. Jesse Hagen says:

    The cost was estimated to be $30 if the state had to pay for more construction costs. Now that the feds are paying for all of the infrastructure, the ticket cost will be closer to $20.

    Either way, piling your family of four into a car will still probably be cheaper and easier than taking the train. However, you’ll still benefit as others that would drive will now take the train, leaving the roads clearer for you. Also, say you need to go on a business trip, now you have the option to take the train to Madison (or if you’re currently in Madison) have the option to take the train to Milwaukee, the Milwaukee airport, or Downtown Chicago.

    The key is, now you have the choice.

  23. Maybe they should let kids ride for free when accompanied by an adult.

  24. SS says:

    Come on. So now we’ll have a train full of annoying kids? And I thought the train idea couldn’t get any worse…

    Never mind what the parent is supposed to do when they arrive at the Dane County Regional Airport with 4 kids in tow.

  25. Jerrod says:

    You are wrong about me having choice.

    The fact is, I will still be paying for the train through my property taxes. Choice will also be taken away from me by setting up a regional transit authority. They will have the power to raise my taxes, and I will not have the choice to vote against the members on that board at any time.

    Choice? There’s no choice. They will build this train that nobody will ride, and I’ll be stuck with the bill for it.

  26. Jesse Hagen says:

    The HSR extension to Madison is being built with federal money and the operations will be paid from fares and a state subsidy.

    The roads you drive on are subsidised by the state, feds, and whatever local jurisdiction you happen to be driving through. I don’t recall seeing any elections for SEWRPC or a vote on whether to expand any freeways.

    You do know that the train is just an extension of the current Hiawatha service to Chicago, right? So, because they’re expanding service 700,000 people will refuse to ride? Yeah, you’re not a partisan hack…

  27. Dave says:

    I am calling BS on all of the Waukesha folk who say they will never use the train. The zoo interchange is going to be a mess for a long time to come. In 2013, when the Government plans to have the train completed, people are going to have two options. Either “A” sit in traffic for a hour long trip, or “B” board a train and take a 15 minute ride into city.

    Admittedly, I have made one assumption. The people operating the train will not be charging $33 to ride from Occonomowoc or Brookfield to Milwaukee. If they have any sense, to add and create ridership, they will figure out a pricing plan that would encourage these routes through lower costs.

    My question is why is this not a commuter line? The train will not be moving that fast, and the distance between Madison and Milwaukee is only shrinking. I believe that every community between the two cities is growing in population, and jobs.

    Also, if all the jobs are leaving Milwaukee for the western counties. Is it not possible that people want to live in Milwaukee and work in the Western counties? Would they not use this train?

    This is a huge deal. I am worried the wrong people are going to take power in the fall, and this might all fall apart.

  28. Jerrod says:

    It’s interesting that you fall to the level of name-calling when you don’t have a substantial argument. Nice…..

    “The HSR extension to Madison is being built with federal money and the operations will be paid from fares and a state subsidy.”

    – Federal money is still tax dollars that comes from the money I earn. This money doesn’t just fall from the sky because it’s “federal money.”
    – “State subsidy” is again, tax dollars.

    I’m not saying people will refuse to ride, I’m just saying that nobody will want to. Who wants to get off at the Madison airport? I’m saying that this is more of a want than a need. With the economy the way it is, why would we raise taxes to pay for something we want?

  29. MilwaukeeD says:

    Well, of course it will be cheaper (in cash you spend that day) to take your family of 4 in a car v. buy 4 train tickets. However, in your calculation you are only taking into account the cost of gas (and maybe parking at your destination). Further, you are assuming that gas prices stay in the $2-3/gallon range…forever.

    What you aren’t taking into account is the cost of your car payment, car insurance and eventual maintenance/upkeep (new tires, oil change, etc.) required for your apr. 140-mile round trip in your car. Most estimates put that cost somewhere between $5-6k per year (or $4-500/month). Now, since you already own a car, you are paying most of that fixed cost anyway, so throwing some gas in the car doesn’t seem like much of an added expense. But for some people, youself included, it may help you avoid having to purchase that second or third car…or any car at all…which would make the train much, much cheaper than having an extra car in the family for when someone needs to go out of town.

    Also, full cars going back and forth between Milwaukee and Madison are fairly efficient and cost-effective….however, when I make that drive…full cars are the exception. Most of the drivers are single or double occupants. That is the main target market of the train.

  30. Just to be clear, we’d love to put the family of 4 on the train and take it to Chicago, because yes, it’s not a fun drive, and if we can avoid traffic and parking, that would be ideal, but the last time we went, we checked the price of 4 tickets and it was just too much, so we drove. I’m not taking into account the cost of insurance and maintenance, etc. because I need to cover all of the anyway for using the car to get to work every day. We discussed trying to be a one-car family, but it just won’t work for us… it would be great if it did, but it won’t. Besides, it sounds like ‘SS’ doesn’t want kids allowed on trains, never mind parents who don’t take responsibility for their children, but that’s an entirely different discussion…

  31. Jesse Hagen says:

    ” Federal money is still tax dollars that comes from the money I earn. This money doesn’t just fall from the sky because it’s “federal money.” “State subsidy” is again, tax dollars. ”

    Yes, they are tax dollars, you’re acting like it’s some kind of revelation. It’s exactly like the subsidies that airports and highways receive, is this somehow news to you?

    ” I’m not saying people will refuse to ride, I’m just saying that nobody will want to. ”

    If no one wants to, then why are there already 700,000 people riding the Hiawatha? Do you honestly believe that no one would want to ride the train versus any of their other options? Really?

    ” Who wants to get off at the Madison airport? ”

    I’m guessing anyone that wants to take a flight out of Madison’s airport… but a Downtown station would be best.

    ” I’m saying that this is more of a want than a need. With the economy the way it is, why would we raise taxes to pay for something we want? ”

    So during a tough economy, it would it be best for the government to cut back spending? So, more people should be put out of work? I’m assuming by your ideas on spending that we should also turn back all the funds the feds provided for road resurfacing and the state should halt the expansion of 94 to Illinois. They’re just a few potholes being filled and adding an extra lane after all, as you said, it’s more a want than a need.

  32. SS says:

    I didn’t say I didn’t want kids on the train. I said letting kids ride for free was a stupid idea that is going to turn the train into a school bus that no adults are going to want to ride… just like adult MCTS riders dislike MPS students on the buses.

    Face it, the train is priced out of the market for the poor. So the entire state (and country) is subsidizing a passenger train to serve the wealthy. AND if financed by an RTA regressive sales tax, the poor will be hurt especially hard. Why do people support this? It benefits very few people who don’t need it.

    > But for some people, youself included, it may help you avoid having to purchase that second or third car…or any car at all…which would make the train much, much cheaper than having an extra car in the family for when someone needs to go out of town

    This is a fantasy that would take 200 years to implement. The density of Wisconsin is no where near high enough. Even in NYC there’s plenty of cars. Most people don’t own a car, but the roads are still clogged. NYC has the most heavily used public transportation system in the world, and it still has to constantly raise fares and cut services. You would think the tax base of NYC could easily finance the subway without fares, but it’s not even close. These rail projects just bleed money like crazy.

    The future of personal transportation is in smarter cars, not rails. Cars that are capable of driving themselves on the interstate. Roads are king, they are cheap, versatile, and far reaching.

    For commerce, intermodal is key, and rail has a future (why do you think Buffett bought BNSF??). We should be implementing policies and infrastructure to make it affordable for manufacturers to move their long haul truck routes to rail, with increasingly automated intermodal transfer stations. Putting passenger trains on these rail lines screws this up even more.

  33. MilwaukeeD says:

    Well, NYC brings up a good chicken or egg question. What comes first, the density or the transit? I would argue that density can only reach a certain level without quality transit (aproximately the Milwaukee level of density), but it cannot go beyond that amount without quality transit.

    So the real question is, do we want to provide quality transit now to allow us to increase our density (and overall growth)? Or are we going to sit around for 200 years waiting for the density to be high enough to support better transit?

  34. SS says:

    It’s easy, there is no debate, the density came first! Just look at the history of any city with rapid transit.

    Then look at the cities that built mass transit that is underused and failing. It doesn’t create density.

  35. Jesse Hagen says:

    SS, what cities are you looking at? Also, were the cities that had density a result of pre-auto development?

  36. MilwaukeeD says:

    I think Chicago, NYC, D.C., Toronto, Portland and others make a pretty good argument that transit spurs density. Clearly, density is higher along major fixed transit lines. Sure, they had a certain amount of density before transit, but there is no way their skyscrapers could exist or their dense neighborhoods could increase their density without the El, subway or streetcar.

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