Our Downtown Hub

The Milwaukee Intermodal Station is much closer to the Downtown action than you might think. Part II of a series.

By - Jul 2nd, 2012 12:04 pm
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Milwaukee Intermodal Station

Milwaukee Intermodal Station

The Milwaukee Intermodal Station is an obvious gateway to Milwaukee. Located at 433 W St. Paul Street, it is in the heart of the city and commerce center, with hotels, entertainment, restaurants and retail stores within walking distance.

It’s a clunky word, but intermodal means a station that provides two or more different forms of transportation services. Milwaukee’s is a passenger rail and bus station that is owned by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, which also maintains an office on the site.


Originally dedicated in 1965 as Milwaukee Union Station, the station was home to passenger rail operations for the Milwaukee Road. The station was built in the modernist style, having been designed by architect Donald Grieb, who is also known for his work on the iconic Mitchell Domes. In moving to the new station, the Milwaukee Road abandoned the Everett Street Depot (located between 2nd and 4th St.).

In 1966, the Chicago and Northwestern Railway relocated their service from the Lake Front Depot to the new facility on St. Paul. The Lake Front Depot, built in 1889 and subsequently purchased by Milwaukee County in 1946, was demolished in 1968. The destruction of the old Chicago and Northwestern Railway depot was controversial, spurring a movement towards historic preservation in Milwaukee.

In 1971, both railroads’ passenger operations were folded into the newly-formed Amtrak, which began operating service from the station.

The state of Wisconsin bought the station in 1999, and a few years later announced plans to renovate and expand the station. Following a false start that didn’t win city approval, Eppstein Uhen Architects delivered a design that included a glassy atrium at the front of the building. That design was approved, and the city created a tax-incremental financing district for the station’s redevelopment. The redevelopment and expansion of the station was completed in late 2007. Greyhound was the first bus operator to move their operations to the facility, turning the former Milwaukee Amtrak Station into a truly intermodal facility.


As of today, both the Chicago-to-Milwaukee Amtrak Hiawatha Service and the Seattle/Portland-to-Chicago Amtrak Empire Builder use the Milwaukee Intermodal Station. Had Wisconsin not returned the $800+ million high speed rail grant, the Hiawatha Service would have continued to Madison by 2013, and ultimately to the Twin Cities. In addition, the planned Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee (KRM) commuter rail proposal would have used the station as its northern terminus.

The station still continues to see active freight trains pass through. Canadian Pacific, who owns the underlying track, continues to runs multiple freight trains through the station everyday.

Train travelers can connect with bus transportation that can extend their route almost anywhere in the state. Operating out of the station are Greyhound, Indian Trails, Jefferson Lines, Lamers at the station itself. Nearby operators include Badger Coaches, Coach USA Megabus, Wisconsin Coach Lines. There is a handy page on the Wisconsin DOT site which shows you the destinations to which all these companies connect and a link to their sites for schedules and pricing.

Milwaukee Gateway

While one could argue that not all of the 1.3 million passengers touted as using the station are visitors (certainly a healthy number are regular commuters from Northern Illinois and Southeastern Wisconsin), there’s still a lot of people traveling to and from Milwaukee via the train or bus.

Arriving rail passengers are subjected to a rather shabby train shed and platform, however, this improves considerably once inside the station. The terminal itself is bright and airy and contains opportunities for refreshment and a comfortable waiting area.

As they exit the terminal, travelers are greeted by a transfer drive that is big enough for cabs, vans and private cars to get close to the terminal and pick up passengers.

Departing patrons can either walk, bike, take public transportation to the terminal or park in numerous nearby parking lots and garages. The lot most used by patrons is immediately west of the station and charges $6 per day.

I know in our car culture “walking distance” is a debatable concept, but I’ve put together a google map of landmark buildings near the station.  I think it will surprise you how close much of Downtown is to the station. For instance,The Hilton City Center and the Frontier Airlines Center are three short blocks from the station.

In that same three blocks you arrive at Wisconsin Avenue, which serves as the central artery for the region’s bus system. Routes take passengers directly to the East Side and UW-Milwaukee, the West Side (Froedtert Hospital and The Medical College) and many other cities and neighborhoods throughout Milwaukee County. In addition, the Milwaukee County Transit System’s route #57 service and the Milwaukee Trolley Loop that runs during the summer season serve the station directly.

Cabs are available right outside the station’s door. A small bike parking area is located at the eastern end of the bus arrival lot.

While the present site is a good transportation hub, future development of a fixed-rail streetcar that serves Downtown will improve door-to-door service for many passengers.

Recent controversial moves by Governor Walker have put improved service on the Amtrak Hiawatha Service route in doubt. This route is one of the most successful Amtrak lines in the country, with ever-growing traffic. New train sets, remodeling the train shed and track improvements are awaiting funding from the State of Wisconsin (All of which would have been funded under the previously mentioned high speed rail funds). Here’s hoping the funds are appropriated.

For great information on the many services offered for arriving passengers the Department of Transportation maintains an informational website.

This is the second article Jeff Jordan’s series on Milwaukee’s gateways, for the first one see Gateways: The Airport Story.


7 thoughts on “Gateways: Our Downtown Hub”

  1. Ed Werstein says:

    Great article, Jeff. Very informative for folks that don’t know the station or are considering their transportation options.
    It still burns me every time I think about the HSR money being rejected and going to other states.

  2. Tyrell Track Master says:

    Another good article! Thanks for this great series… A while ago you guys published a design contest regarding the space under the freeways… some good work could be done to invite conventioneers to walk to their hotels/conventions from the station.. right now I doubt they even know they can! Would be good for the convention center to include this fact in their marketing.

  3. CJ says:

    I really dislike the “view” that is given upon exiting the Intermodal Station, as the building across the street is no welcome to the city. In my dream world the downtown transit center would be relocated there as well as a streetcar terminal, truly making that corner the transportation hub of Milwaukee. If a cafe and bike rental station were also put in I think it would make for a wonderful Milwaukee entry point.

  4. Edith Wagner says:

    Can anyone explain why the Wisconsin Coach shuttle to O’Hare and Midway cannot come to the Intermodal Station? It picks up and drops off a block away without any shelter. In winter, it’s a bear. I ask the coach drivers who have no answer. I’m a resident and am dropped off or usually someone is waiting for me when I return. But complete strangers are always perplexed about being dropped in the middle of a block surrounded by parking lots. The front door of the Intermodal Station would be a whole heck of a lot more gemutlich.

  5. Dave Reid says:

    @Edith Good question… What I’ve heard was that Greyhound was involved in the redevelopment of the station so, they don’t allow the other bus services to drop off right on site… (that’s just what I’ve heard…)

  6. jerokit says:

    @edith good question…most likely the bus company does not want to pay a fee for using the facility. I imagine greyhound and amtrak pay some kind of fee/rent.

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