Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Amtrak Accidents and Customer Service

Also discussion of Downtown Dining Week, some development news, and new tv commercials from MCTS.

By - Jun 28th, 2012 01:05 pm
Milwaukee Intermodal Station

It would be miserable if Amtrak left you stranded less than 20 miles from this station for hours

As it should, the sales pitch for the Amtrak Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee centers around convenience. That said, it’s embarrassing how poorly passengers are treated in the event of an accident. Accidents will happen, but the response to them is what matters.

On June 8th, a northbound Hiawatha struck a woman near Caledonia. Passengers on the train were forced to wait for three hours before being picked up on a bus and taken to their destinations. This is unacceptable, especially given that Caledonia is under 20 miles from the train’s final stop at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station.

Amtrak should contract with local transit agencies or private operators to have buses ready for passenger transport that can arrive within the hour. Such a backup service provision won’t work for cross-country routes like the Empire Builder, but for corridor service like the Hiawatha it is well suited. The Hiawatha Service route takes only an hour and a half to traverse.

Business relationships between bus operators and Amtrak already exist, and can be used for as a basis for building the backup system. Amtrak contracts with private operators already for its Thruway Motorcoach service, which provides bus connections to cities not served by their existing routes. It is certainly a money losing proposition for Amtrak to have to pay for multiple buses to pick up stranded passengers, but a likely greater money losing proposition is to lose customers for life because of awful experiences trapped on a train.

If we really want Amtrak to gain market share and help foster more connections between Milwaukee and Chicago, it needs to provide a high quality of service. Leaving passengers stranded is something Amtrak should leave to the airlines.

In a previous article I discussed the need for pricing innovation on the Hiawatha.

Downtown Dining Week and the Perception of Milwaukee

The latest annual installment of Milwaukee Downtown’s extremely popular Downtown Dining Week has come and gone, but hopefully has left a lasting impression that downtown is a fun, attractive, and safe place to visit.

Ironically, the event doesn’t seem to be highly attended by downtown employees. A number of my friends that work downtown avoid the restaurants on the list for the week of the event to avoid the crowds and longer wait times, returning the next week. We even had to relocate two Urban Milwaukee lunch meetings to different restaurants to be able to get a table thanks to the overwhelming crowds (this is a good problem).

The suburban crowd seems to love the week of discount lunches and dinners though. I’ve heard attendance breakdowns peg the suburban attendance share as high as 70%.

Assuming most of the attendees have a good meal (and at the price of $10 for lunch and $20 for dinner, it’s hard to go wrong), how do the restaurants and Milwaukee Downtown convert them into more regular event attendees? When I head to a restaurant for the downtown dining week special, I rarely get hit up to fill out the Milwaukee Downtown survey card, nor anything for the restaurant itself. If I’m a participating restaurant, I would be collecting as many email or snail mail addresses as possible to open up marketing channels to encourage future visits.

The event draws a phenomenal number of people to downtown, and is a tremendous success. Hopefully the restaurants are able to create long-term customers and draw people to downtown year-round.

MCTS’s New TV Commercials

The Milwaukee County Transit System rolled out a series of new television commercials. The commercials feature all sides of the transit system from drivers and passengers to MCTS Managing Director Lloyd Grant, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, UWM Chancellor Mike Lovell,  and City of Milwaukee Police Department Chief Edward Flynn. The campaign features the slogan “Vital to the community. Vital to you. Ride.”

No surprise, but Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke doesn’t make an appearance after spending the last year using the system as a political football.

You can watch all of the commercials online, or view my favorite below.

Bartolotta’s Buys Park East Building

520 W. McKinley Ave

520 W. McKinley Ave

The former Palomar project sales center will become the headquarters for one of Milwaukee’s premier restaurant groups. The Bartolotta Restaurants will purchase the building located at 520 W. McKinley Ave just across from the Park East corridor.

I’m happy to see The Bartolotta Restaurants coming downtown. It’s great that instead of becoming largely anonymous within an office tower, they will put an empty building into an active use. I do struggle to believe that they intend to stay in that location long-term though. As developments begin to fill the Park East, it seems reasonable that a one-story building (next to another one-story warehouse) might be demolished to make way for a bigger development. That is exactly what is happening at the current Bartolotta headquarters in Wauwatosa.

Is Washington Square office tower dead?

The previously announced Washington Square office tower appears to have lost any moment it may have had. The rest of the media had articles about a proposed building near the lakefront (833 E. Michigan St) late last week with the anchor tenant announced as law firm Godfrey & Kahn. The firm is currently located in the former M&I Bank headquarters on the northeast corner of Water and Mason streets.

Godfrey & Kahn was previously announced to have signed a letter of intent for the Washington Square tower. Baker Tilly also had signed a letter of intent, but has since opted to move into the US Bank Center. Another potential tenant, law firm Von Briesen & Roper S.C., ended up renewing its lease at the 411 Building.

All of this is of course subject to change, as we have seen letters of intent aren’t guarantees that anything will get built. The competing proposals are further complicated by the likely redevelopment of the Downtown Transit Center, which could block some corner office lake views.

Both Washington Square and 833 E. Michigan St are to developed in part by Irgens Development Partners.

No TIGER Grants for the Milwaukee Streetcar

The Milwaukee Streetcar project again failed to win a TIGER grant from the US Department of Transportation, but I’m not surprised. It is unlikely the federal government would give Milwaukee more money for a streetcar, until construction starts on the proposed line. Milwaukee has had federal money dedicated for a new transit system since the early 1990’s. It seems to me that the city is far more likely to receive federal awards once the first rail is in the ground.

It is also perfectly reasonable that if the federal government is awarding infrastructure grants they would expect them to be spent on infrastructure projects, not tied up politics. Milwaukee’s case is certainly hurt when the state returns $800+ million targeted for the Hiawatha extension to Madison and cities like Atlanta, Cincinnati, Tuscon, New Orleans and Salt Lake City are receiving TIGER grants and building streetcar systems, while Milwaukee’s system waffles in front of the Public Service Commission.

For more on TIGER grants see the frequently asked questions page.

Chicago Bulls moving practice center to Chicago, Milwaukee Bucks should move practice center with new arena

The Chicago Bulls are moving their practice center from suburban Deerfield into downtown Chicago thanks to a pitch made by new Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. This will certainly give the team more visibility (although I’m not sure they need it as much as other teams), and likely result in Chicago getting another attractive street-level building that makes the city more attractive and pedestrian friendly. Chicago has added a number of non-retail first-floor uses over the past few years with multiple television stations now operating from the street level.

If the Milwaukee Bucks are to get a new arena with city support, it seems almost too logical that an expectation be that they relocate their practice facility from its current home in St. Francis at the Cousins Center to downtown Milwaukee. It sure wouldn’t hurt to have a building that looked along the lines of the Al Maguire Center on the edge of downtown. Plus, it might help to encourage a few more players to live downtown. Brandon Jennings moved to St. Francis when he came to Milwaukee (although he’s now a resident of the Historic Third Ward) partially because of its proximity to the Cousins Center.

Categories: Eyes on Milwaukee

6 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Amtrak Accidents and Customer Service”

  1. Jerad says:

    I like the commercials by MCTS, and now I have the whistle jingle stuck in my head…

  2. Jamie says:

    I certainly can’t wrap my head around the poor folks who commit suicide by stepping in front of a train doing 79 mph. It could be that the three hour delay was caused by emergency personnel holding the train while they searched for body parts along the right-of-way. Plus getting a relief engineer to the train due to the psychological trauma suffered by the engineer in the cab. I agree that 3 hours seems excessive but there may be more to this that we don’t know.

  3. Michael James says:

    This is off topic, but I was thinking today, as I was sitting motionless on 794 west… now that all 794 west traffic, and traffic coming out of Downtown going west has to funnel into a SINGLE LANE, is it really necessary to have THREE LANES on the Hone? can bike / ped lane talks be reopened??!

    I think I’ll send some letters / emails to WisDOT about this… something like… now that 794 has two lanes south of the Hone, and one lane West of the Hone, please explain why the bridge should have three lanes???

  4. mary says:

    Thank u for finally exsposeing amtracks terrible record on getting to there detination on time in a train.Just as it was 20 hours late in west virginia,I too was stuck on a bus for 6 hours,no bathroom,after this train was 6 hours late.When I complained stating I paid for a train ticket,not a bus,I was told by there customer service agent at union station,,”Amtrack will get u to your destination by any means possible,”I then replied,fine put me on a plane then,now!!!”Sorry mame that is not economically possible”…Amtracks customer service and time schedule is a joke.When my friend called to find out what time to pic me up,,they outright lied to her,telling her the train was on time,she is on the phone w/me,I am sitting in union station already 6 hours late,and there telling her,”its on time”,,there liers…….mary

  5. Doug Hissom says:

    We stopped at Hinterland, one of our favorite restaurants on a Thursday during Dining Week just before 9 p.m. and were told “we’re all out of our dinners” and couldn’t be seated. We wondered if the Downtown menu was all they were serving. Not a favorable impression for any of the 70%ers from the suburbs for sure. They looked a little haggard there too. We eat Downtown all the time and towards the end of the week it seemed the help was getting stressed by all the fuss.

  6. Dave Reid says:

    @Doug Yeah despite Downtown Dining Week being an overall positive for downtown, I’ve heard over the years from many a service industry staffer that it is a tough week, poor tips and such..

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