Michael Horne
Plenty of Horne

Amtrak to Chicago Will Go Wireless

Finally, the line will get Wi-Fi (we hope), but Milwaukee's Amtrak station still lacks it.

By - Nov 29th, 2013 11:33 am
An Amtrak train awaits departure at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station. Photo by Dave Reid.

An Amtrak train awaits departure at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station. Photo by Dave Reid.

Amtrak is speeding along with plans to put “Wi-Fi” service on the Hiawatha route between Chicago and Milwaukee it operates for the states of Wisconsin and Illinois.

Amtrak Goes Wireless on the Hiawatha,” reads a blog post.

The national passenger rail network “has pinpointed its Hiawatha route between Chicago and Milwaukee as one of three routes it’s going to use to try a new program that will provide riders with Internet connectivity during the ride,” we learn.

However, this report dates to January, 2002. Since then AmtrakConnect Wi-Fi has been installed in 75 percent of the nation’s train routes!

But the 90 mile route between Chicago and Milwaukee, the busiest in the midwest and the fifth-busiest in the nation, still does not have internet service for passengers.

A more recent report about the advent of internet service on the trains came on November 22nd, 2013, when Lydia Mulvany wrote in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Nomad Digital, a British company that is the “global leader in providing wireless solutions to the transportation sector,” would provide the hardware and software to operate the system on the trains.

An agreement had  been signed in August, 2013 to provide the service at a capital cost of $400,000, shared between the two states with Wisconsin paying 75 percent for its share. It will cost another $86,500 per year to operate the system, according to the article.

Yes, soon Amtrak can join that icon of high tech, the Megabus, in offering wireless service.

But no further details were forthcoming, and no contract or agreement signed between the state and Nomad appears on the state’s website.

Retrofitting the Amtrak cars with wireless devices should not have been necessary: the state has two state-of-the-art, Milwaukee-built, wireless-ready Talgo trainsets to replace them rotting in a warehouse because the Walker administration refuses to put them into service.

[The Spanish firm has filed a $63 million claim against the state. Urban Milwaukee has made a request for a copy of the claim, which the state tells me it is now reviewing.We will report on this as soon the state provides the information requested. ]

Things are not much better at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station, attractively (but superficially) remodeled in 2007. But the station waiting room lacks wi-fi.

Plans to remodel the train shed — mandated by the federal government — have entered their eighth year. Work was to have begun in late 2010, to make the arrival and departure area functional and accessible but nothing has happened there except for many holes that have been punched in the roof of the shed, allowing rain and snow onto the platform. “Engineering tests,” is how the state transportation department described it.

It seems the Walker administration, despite its avowed support of the Hiawatha line, will do nothing to bring the transportation needs of the Milwaukee-Chicago corridor into the 21st century, which itself is soon to enter its 14th year.

No Challenges for County Judges

No challengers have come forward to oppose incumbent Milwaukee County judges up for election on April 1st, 2014.

Judges Tom McAdams [Br.7], Daniel A. Noonan [Br.31], Rebecca Dallet [Br.40] and John J. DiMotto [Br.41] have all declared their candidacy.

This leaves Judge Kevin E. Martens [Br. 27] as the only question mark on the ballot, since he has neither declared his candidacy nor announced his non-candidacy.

The other judge up for election, Michael D. Guolee [Br. 32], declared his non-candidacy, and two candidates have announced their intention to replace him [see below].

A successor must also be found for Judge Chuck Kahn [Br.24], who retired midterm.

Janet Protasiewicz, who lost to Rebecca Bradley in a judicial race this spring, has announced that she is seeking Kahn’s seat. She is an assistant district attorney working in the felony division, and has received the endorsements of Mayor Tom Barrett, District Attorney John Chisholm, Judge Pedro Colon, Ald. Nik Kovac, Rep. Evan Goyke and Court Commissioner Cedric Cornwall.

Cedric Cornwall at the Riverfront Pizzeria Bar & Grill. Photo by Michael Horne.

Cedric Cornwall at the Riverfront Pizzeria Bar & Grill. Photo by Michael Horne.

Cornwall is one of two announced candidates for Branch 32; the other is his boss, Chief Court Commissioner Laura Gramling Perez. Cornwall held a fundraiser Wednesday, November 20th, at Riverfront Pizzeria Bar and Grill, 509 E. Erie St. About 50 supporters showed up to enjoy pizza at the event, which Cornwall hosted much as if it had been a church social or a family reunion. You could see that in how he fussed over his guests, scurrying back and forth.

Cornwall is originally from Mississippi, which explains a great deal about that style of hospitality. When he was just a youngster, Cornwall said, his older relatives noted that “I was a methodical kid.” An aunt saw a legal career in his future, whose name sounds mighty judgey to begin with. An uncle was a Marquette graduate, and steered Cornwall to college and law school in Milwaukee, where he remains with his wife, two children, and, perhaps next August — a new black robe and a gavel to call his own.

The River is Frozen

This photograph, taken Wednesday, November 27th, 2013, shows the newly frozen Milwaukee River looking north toward the Greenway Gateway. Photo by Michael Horne

This photograph, taken Wednesday, November 27th, 2013, shows the newly frozen Milwaukee River looking north toward the Greenway Gateway. Photo by Michael Horne

The Milwaukee River froze from bank to bank downstream from the former dam sometime overnight between Sunday November 24th and the next morning. This is a few weeks earlier than last year, when the river froze and refroze, but not until December.

But the timing is pretty much on schedule, historically.

Milwaukee pioneer James S. Buck, who wrote the Pioneer History of Milwaukee, included the river’s freezing and thawing dates as an appendix to Volume 3 of his 1881 work.

His table shows that the river froze on November 20th, 1836; November 25th, 1837; November 15th, 1838; November 21st, 1839; November 17th, 1840; November 25th, 1841; November 17th, 1842 and December 1st 1843. The river froze as late as December 19th, in 1853, but for the most part the last week or so in November seems to be the time when the river glosses over. This year the ice is now a smooth sheet from shore to shore, covered with a thin blanket of snow. We’ll see what it looks like in about 90 days, when it should thaw again. Each year is different.

So why was the freeze-thaw date of such significance that Buck would chose to include it for the ages in his history?

For the first couple decades of the city’s history, the freeze / thaw dates would have been of interest to the entire community. Milwaukee was as much tied to maritime commerce as if it were an island.

Quite simply, when the river was frozen, Milwaukee was isolated. No commerce went on with other cities and regions. No provisions were brought into town, and none of its manufactures could be exported until the reopening of navigation. There were no rails connecting us to other cities, and whatever trails existed were nigh-unto unnavigable in the winter. If the settlers lacked for anything, there was not much they could do about it.

Even if a manufacturer kept his crews busy over the winter, it could bankrupt him, since there was no way to ship his goods for sale — and therefore no way to pay his workers. Any money circulating in the community came from within the community itself. No bags of silver and gold were showing up from the U.S. Mint to freshen up the money supply.

The primitive early economy of this city had some complexities worth pondering. That the settlement made it at all under these harsh conditions is remarkable in retrospect.

Scene on the Street

This home on N. Cass St. is undergoing a conversion from a duplex back to a single family home. Photo by Michael Horne.

This home on N. Cass St. is undergoing a conversion from a duplex back to a single family home. Photo by Michael Horne.

An 1870s home on N. Cass St. is the latest old building in the neighborhood just north of East Pointe Commons to be substantially remodeled. It was originally built as a single family dwelling, and was converted at one point to a duplex, possibly around World War II when there was a critical shortage of housing in this city. The conversion to a duplex may have happened even earlier, since the neighborhood saw an influx of Sicilian residents before the depression, and many homes were divided to accommodate the immigrants and their huge families. [I’d run down to City Hall to check this out, but it is closed for the holiday as I write this.] Anyway, we do know the home was bought by accountant Kay Gnat-Schaefer for $96,000 this year, a considerable discount from its assessed value of $153,600. Gnat-Schaefer’s crews have hauled out a lot of old boards, plaster, etc. from the building, and have removed the porch as well.

When the $12,500 project is complete, the duplex will be reincarnated as a single-family home, as it was when built 140 years ago. This is progress in Urban Milwaukee. Who else is willing to give up an income unit to restore a single-family home to its previous glory?

…Toy Drive announced:  Every year Germaine Bowers of the Y-NOT II Coffeetails bar, 1506 N. Van Buren St., gathers toys for needy children in a pre-holiday drive. The bins are already in place, and will soon be overflowing, as they have in the past, as can be seen from photos posted on the wall.

You can bring down toys any time after 6 a.m. — yes, that’s a.m., a plenty early time for a tavern to open up, wouldn’t you say? The drive will culminate with a Christmas Party on Sunday, December 15th, — yes, at 6 a.m. Don’t be late

… Another Microbrewery Here? Erik C. Peterson, a Washington state native who bought the old Krueger Bakery on the southeast corner of N. Holton and E. Center streets, has scheduled a “Winterfest” party at his building, 2670 N. Holton St. on Saturday, January 4th, 2014 from 6 p.m. to midnight. It will feature “beer sampling, food sampling, live music … for a $25 donation everything is included.”

Winterfest is a “fundraiser / kickstart party for Milwaukee’s next microbrewery,” he adds. On November 23rd, 2013, he hosted “Novembeerfest,” a fundraiser for Tytoo Gardens Orphanage in Haiti, which Peterson has visited on numerous occasions.

At the party one Riverwest landlord was heard to complain about one of the no-goodniks who had plagued him and fellow residents. No longer, since the individual committed suicide last week. But not without leaving a few loose ends behind.

“Not only did the sumbitch kill himself, he stole my ladder to do it,” the landlord lamented.

Categories: Plenty of Horne

4 thoughts on “Plenty of Horne: Amtrak to Chicago Will Go Wireless”

  1. Gary Goyke says:

    Perfect reading for a Friday morning. Thanks! We will keep up the battle for improved passenger rail service between Chicago and Milwaukee…and Madison.. and Minneapolis! Thanks for highlighting the changes. Also you are “right on” with the wonderful history of the Milwaukee area…..I like it all!

  2. Steve Kazmierski says:

    The Intermodal Station DOES indeed have WIFI and has for some time. I’ve used it for the past year or so when having to travel to Green Bay or Chicago.

  3. Sam says:

    This is good! Although in my rides down to Chicago on the Hiawatha I’ve been able to use my cellphone data service 3g and 4g in spots, consistent data speeds will be nice to have. Steve is right though. I’ve taken Hiawatha to Chicago and back numerous times over the last year and have enjoyed the free WIFI in the station everytime.

  4. Andy says:

    Was the final paragraph about the suicide some sort of lame attempt at an offensive joke? I don’t understand why that would be in there.

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