Patti Wenzel

Walker seeks federal stimulus funds for Hiawatha upgrades

By - Mar 30th, 2011 04:00 am
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Flickr Creative Commons photo by KB35

Scott Walker and Tom Barrett are partnering to improve and expand the Hiawatha train between Milwaukee and Chicago.

Walker made the announcement to seek $150 million from the High Speed Intercity Grant program at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station on Tuesday afternoon.

The money would be used to upgrade rail lines, construct a larger train shed, build a maintenance facility and purchase additional engines and train sets, according to Walker. The funds are potentially available after Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott rejected $2.4 billion for a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando, part of President Obama’s stimulus spending on transportation.

“Upgrading the Hiawatha line will save the state money and improve rail service for Wisconsin customers,” Walker said. “The state will save money immediately on capital costs and in the long-term with lower operating costs. Service improvements will also enable the state to recover more from ticket sales.”

The Hiawatha provides daily service between Milwaukee and Chicago and had a record 783,060 riders in 2010, up 6.1 percent from 2009. The previous record occurred in 2008, with 749,000 riders. Walker said this project will provide for increased ridership on this vital link for business, recreation and culture.

Walker said upgrades to the line could eventually increase the speed of trains from 78 mph to 100 mph – cutting the commute between Chicago and Milwaukee from over 90 minutes down to an hour. He also sees increasing the number of trips the line would make as ridership increases.

The state will partner with Illinois, Missouri, Michigan and Amtrak to submit a joint application to provide funding for two train sets and eight locomotives. The governor was not clear on whether those new trains and engines would be manufactured by Talgo or another train builder.

Walker explained a train shed was already planned at the Intermodal Station by former Gov. Jim Doyle, with $30 million in state funds earmarked for the project. That shed was included in the original plans for the $810 million in federal funds and was not voided when Walker refused the stimulus dollars. The new shed will be larger than originally planned, with a proposed price tag of $60 million. The new grant dollars would fund the shed on a 80/20 split, with the state on the hook for $12 million.

Milwaukee’s Intermodal Station. Photo courtesy Wiki Commons

Walker can say he saved the state $18 million if he receives this latest grant.

The mayor was not at the Tuesday press conference, but he expressed his support following the event.

“This is an important step forward toward improving the rail connection between Milwaukee and Chicago. The Hiawatha is a popular route with a growing number of riders, and it provides a valuable economic link between Illinois and Wisconsin,” Barrett said.

The proposed maintenance facility would be built near the current Talgo, Inc. plant. Mayor Barrett said he hoped the Hiawatha deal would keep jobs here in Milwaukee and at Talgo.

Talgo announced plans to reduce its presence in Milwaukee following the loss of the Milwaukee/Madison high-speed rail project.

The classic Hiawatha observation car. No word whether money can bring this beauty back. Photo from Dummidumbwit’s Weblog.

The money sought by Walker and Barrett now is much less than the $810 million the Governor turned away last November following the election, on grounds that the high-speed rail connection between Milwaukee and Madison would result in $7.5 million from the state in annual maintenance costs. However, the federal government said the upkeep for that rail system would only cost the state $750,000 annually after cost sharing and increased ticket revenues were considered.

Walker said he didn’t see any hypocrisy in his positions concerning the Milwaukee/Madison line and the Hiawatha. He described the Hiawatha as a tested and proven commuter line that needs to be improved and expanded. He repeatedly referred to the Milwaukee/Madison line as speculative on the part of the federal government and a waste of money that could be spent on proven transportation options.

Milwaukee Alderman Robert Bauman, whose district includes the Intermodal Station, thinks Walker’s snub of the high-speed rail money last year will make any application for Hiawatha funding dead on arrival.

“After the way they they kicked dust in the face of the President of the United States and the Department of Transportation and told us how federal stimulus (is) evil, I think there is zero chance Wisconsin gets a dime,” Bauman said. “This is a big scam. They didn’t release any details on what is being asked for. This will not improve or increase service for at least 3  or 4 years. This is just an opportunity for the Governor to go to his supporters and say ‘Look, I support the right kind of trains.'”

The U.S. Department of Transportation has set an April 4 deadline for states to apply for a share of the Florida money. There is no timeline for when the grants will be awarded or announced.

0 thoughts on “Walker seeks federal stimulus funds for Hiawatha upgrades”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Walker feels no hypocrisy in turning down the high speed rail to Madison, but he now wants to go after funds for the Hiawatha? The Hiawatha is yesterday’s technology – by no means light rail. I find this suspicious to say the least. I guess we should take the money if we can, but I – for one – feel the high speed rail would have been a boost to our economy – a futuristic light rail would attract visitors and a healthy exchange of dollars between Madison and Milwaukee at a comparatively low cost.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Extending high speed rail from Milwaukee to Madison and beyond was a good idea despite any extra costs for taxpayers. I’d be curious to know what the price of gas will be next spring versus 10 years from now in 2021. The last I heard, crude oil is a commodity and traded/purchased as such.

  3. Anonymous says:

    How does anyone still get away with calling a train that doesn’t match the speed vehicles traveling on HWY 94 (milwaukee to madison) HIGH SPEEDRAIL!
    Marion, Walker should not feel any hypocrisy as while he campaigned he always supported the upgrades for this line. It was not until late in the push for CARSPEED RAIL, and after polls continued to show little support for Doyle cho cho was the Hiawatha thrown in as an effort to raise public support.
    Tom, I also wonder what things will be like in 10 years. Will traffic patterns (location of work to home) remain as they are today? The last I heard, the internet is used by lots of companies and functions such as meetings, sharing of information, networking, work is all done from remote locations. Heck if technology improves in 10 years mabye they do even more!!!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Tom, you do know that the engines running the CARSPEED RAIL lines are diesel don’t you? So are you commenting on how future costs would have increased for a cho cho nobody would ride?

  5. Anonymous says:

    The US is in need of more mass transit no matter what name or label people against the concept tend to call it. Moving people in number is cheaper and far better for the environment. Even though the initial costs of building a supporting infrastructure will be extremely expensive, the concept of investing now in creating these arteries, such as the Milwaukee to Madison line, is reason enough in taking this small step away from the reliance on fossil fuels. Of course the current technology of rail engines in the US still relies heavily on diesel fuel, and the speeds are currently low indeed, but in developing this infrastructure now could and can evolve to support electric, magnetic levitation, or perhaps even solar-powered drives in the future.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Tom, investment into infrastructure is an argument that can be made when considering all major factors.. one issue with the rail from Madison to Milwaukee is cost and is it appropriate in the current economy. The money required for yesterdays technology, to satisfy tomorrows needs does not match up in this case. Stealing money to support this route is wrong. Those dollars could be used to support bus routes in urban communities and is a far better use of tax dollars than the train. Someone who could afford to pay the cost of riding that train does not need the subsidy as much as lower income families. Also the infrastructure planned had nothing to do with electric, magnetic levitation, or alternative fuel sources!
    Now if the importance of arteries is with the land rights (eminent domain), so government can form smart growth cells, “sustainable living” then make that argument to people… for most they do not wish to be stacked on-top of one another near mass transit.
    Not many can predict the future but with so many manufacturing jobs leaving the country or already gone, and innovation with technology and Internet in everyday life, the days of driving to work or the mall etc. may be over with.

  7. Anonymous says:

    What do you mean about “stealing” money? …and from who?
    The planning of infrastructure here is a huge part.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Tom, I call it stealing when there is a finite amount of capitol to invest. The decision to reallocate money from people in need… better said from a proven mass tranist (bus routes) to put into train infrastructure is “stealing”. To deny the cost and limited amount of funds is to often ignored. And you are right infrastructure is huge, huge in price and the one planned was not true “high speed” no magnetic, electric, etc. It was a bad plan and should have died on the drafting table long ago.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Certainly there is a finite amount of money for capital expenditures. I agree. But, the spending trends still seems to be vastly supportive of oil versus electric or alternative energy means. Let’s just say we agree to disagree. You’ve proposed so many vaild points to your argument and I think this is great. It’s a starting point. Many thanks to Patti Wenzel for this commentary, and TCD! Gracias!

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