Jeramey Jannene
Friday Photos

Milwaukee’s New Train Shed

It's 50 years old and serves nearly 600,000 people annually, and its long-awaited replacement is finally being built.

By - Jun 12th, 2015 05:57 pm
The Train Shed is being rebuilt. Photo by Brendan Murphy.

The Train Shed is being rebuilt. Photo by Brendan Murphy.

While the Milwaukee Intermodal Station looks clean and modern from the street following a 2007 rebuild, the actual experience boarding trains has remained dark and damp. The train shed dates back to 1965 when the station was built by for the defunct Milwaukee Road and has certainly seen better days.

Thankfully, long anticipated work is finally underway to rebuild the train shed at the rear of the station.

The new train shed will feature five tracks for passengers to board trains. Unlike the past arrangement which included tunnels underneath the track, the new train shed will feature an elevated bridge structure for passengers to move from platform to platform. The train shed will also let in substantially more sunlight, making it feel bright and open like the rest of the station.

Unlike many other busy passenger rail stations in the United States, the tracks through the Milwaukee Intermodal Station are actively used by freight trains (including the much discussed oil trains from North Dakota). This substantially complicates the project because of the need for special platform heights and ceiling heights.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation owns the station, train shed and platforms and has contracted with J.P. Cullen to serve as the general contractor on the $20 million project. The federal government is paying 55 percent of the cost. Work is scheduled to be completed by December of this year. The tracks are owned by Canadian Pacific.

The station is being rebuilt because the station is not compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. It is used daily by the Amtrak’s Hiawatha and Empire Builder services, with 596,415 passengers coming through the doors in 2014. Bus service at the station does not use the train shed.

Photos by Brendan Murphy

Train Shed Renderings

Project History

While the new train shed will be an incredible improvement over the previous one, it’s an unfortunate reminder of the comedy of errors that is passenger rail in Wisconsin.

When the saga begin in 2009 Governor Jim Doyle used legislatively granted powers to procure two Talgo trainsets for $50 million. This resulted in Talgo opening an assembly plant in Milwaukee and the state receiving $823 million in stimulus funds that would have paid for extending the Amtrak Hiawatha Service to Madison with stops along the way. In addition, the grant would have paid for required maintenance facility for the new trainsets, a new train shed, and a comprehensive study of further extending the Hiawatha to St. Paul, Minnesota.

As has been extensively documented by Urban Milwaukee, new Governor Scott Walker rejected those federal funds. That left the state having to foot the bill for a maintenance facility to put the new Talgo trainsets into service. When the state punted on building the maintenance facility, the Talgo trainsets were mothballed and ultimately Talgo sued the state (resolved by trains being sold to Michigan).

The Amtrak Hiawatha continues to operate with nearly 30-year-old Amtrak Horizon trainsets that are maintained at a Chicago facility. Milwaukee-made Talgo trainsets are operating on the Cascades service between Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, Canada. They’re also awaiting track upgrades in Michigan before they enter service between Chicago and Detroit.

Also lost with the capital funding rejection was the funding for the train shed. This left a project planned since at least 2010 with an unclear future, despite the requirement to make it ADA-compliant. During that same period, the proposed Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee (KRM) commuter rail line that would have terminated at the station was also officially canceled.

The state did award a contract to rebuild the train shed in 2010 to C.G. Schmidt, but that was ultimately not executed. In 2011, the Federal Railroad Administration passed tougher regulations about platform heights to help disabled passengers, which required a redesign of the planned new train shed because construction had not gotten underway by the grandfathered date of February 2012.

Following completion of the new designs, the platforms will have multiple heights to serve the various equipment types that use the station. Janesville-based J.P. Cullen beat out three other bidders to rebuild the train shed in 2014 with the very precise, low bid of $20,094,843.24. The state had originally estimated the work to cost $15 million. Construction began in January.

Past Coverage

23 thoughts on “Friday Photos: Milwaukee’s New Train Shed”

  1. Eric S says:

    I’m pretty sure the Talgo trainsets have not been purchased by Michigan, at least not yet. And they may not end up there anyway as Michigan (and Illinois and Missouri) already have other railcars being constructed right now (not from Talgo though). There have been some indications that Wisconsin may join the IL/MI/MO group to purchase new equipment for the Hiawatha Service.

  2. mbradleyc says:

    Excellent! Just what I wanted. Man, that really is a horrible place. That post office edifice cannot come down soon enough. I never used the train shed, but it had to be one of the most depressing, intimidating and claustrophobic places in the city. So all that around the shed is the PO too? What a monolith! You can’t even see the river behind it. Bureaucratic thinking.

    Thanks Dave!

  3. mbradleyc says:

    I mean Jeramey.

  4. Robert bauman says:

    I do not believe the Talgo litigation has been resolved. The state still faces monetary claims even though it has paid for the trains. Yes that’s right, thanks to Walker the state has paid over $50M for trains it does not now own and can’t use.

    Also thanks to Walker the state is paying 45 percent of the train shed cost which would have been entirely covered by the $823M grant.

  5. Mark Unak says:

    Thanks for the great article on the Milwaukee Amtrak station. This is all caused by patrician politics played by Governor Dropout.

    As a regular on the Hiawatha, this facility improvement will provide easier access to the trains. Right now, the piers are so low that the passengers need to step down onto a step ladder to disembark the trains. I have seen many people fall as they try to step down off the train to the step ladder with bags sent flying. The conductors do what they can by helping people with their bags but it is a lot to ask seniors to navigate the steps and the ladder.

    When will the people of the state see that the GOP led by Governor Dropout is intent on destroying the institutions and services of Milwaukee and Madison.

  6. SteveM says:

    Has Wisconsin ever had a visionary focused on public transportation? Or have we always put forth doofus-prone reps? Tommy Thompson, Jeff Plale, and Walker? Where is the forward thinking?

    An 8-10 trip to get to Minneapolis? C’mon.

  7. AG says:

    To be more exact, While Walker opposed (short shortsightedly in my opinion) the high speed rail project, he was looking to renegotiate the federal funds so some mass transit projects, including the train shed, line repairs/updates and increased MKE-CHI service, could be completed.

    However, it was the federal transportation secretary that pulled the funds before Walker was sworn into office that ultimately doomed the funds from reaching the state. No negotiation, no trying to work with Walker at all, it was just pulled. Politics cost our state money and the opportunity to see at least some improvements to our train service.

  8. AG says:

    SteveM, Thompson was a big proponent of high speed rail through Wisconsin. He was an original supporter and organizer of the Midwest HSR initiative.

  9. Tim says:

    Thompson had pushed passenger rail for years & the HSR project proposal that Walker rejected, was put together by Thompson’s administration.

    He was a great proponent of rail in WI & the midwest until he flip-flopped when it suited him politically.

  10. PMD says:

    @AG.. So killing high-speed rail here was a bipartisan effort? See the right and left can work together sometimes.

  11. PMD says:

    Although in LaHood’s defense, Walker campaigned on killing high-speed rail and vowed to do so if elected, so was there any real reason for him to attempt to negotiate?

  12. Tim says:

    AG, you are attempting to rewrite the history of HSR in WI. It was always clear that the funds could only be used for the single HSR project linking Chicago to Madison through Milwaukee, in fact the law authorizing the money said exactly that… no surprises there. Walker turned down the money & it was spent on other HSR projects around the country.

    “Governor-elect Scott Walker had vowed to kill the planned 110-mph Milwaukee-to-Madison passenger train route that was to be funded with Wisconsin’s share of $8 billion in federal stimulus dollars. Ohio Governor-elect John Kasich had issued a similar promise for a planned 79-mph line connecting his state’s three largest cities, funded by $400 million in stimulus cash.

    Now, almost all of the $1.2 billion from the two projects will be divided among other states.”

    “In a meeting with reporters in Waukesha, Walker called the decision a “victory” because he sees the rail line as a symbol of excessive government spending.”

  13. AG says:

    True PMD, in fact I’d say when something gets screwed up it usually truly is a bi-partisan event.

    The reason to negotiate is because the transportation secretary’s job is not supposed to be political, it’s for overseeing transportation. If the HSR was the best use of the funds, it should be his job to try and still make it happen or at least see some of the benefits through (like the ones I mentioned). At least wait until Walker is in office… I mean, they didn’t even pretend to try.

    So ok, politically what would the reason be? I guess I can’t come up with much right now… as far as improving our mass transit though (aka, his job), there were many reasons.

  14. PMD says:

    I suppose one could make the case that LaHood should have at least talked to Walker about it before announcing that he was pulling the money from Wisconsin, take the high road and be able to say that even a minimal effort was made. But Walker seemed to make it pretty clear that he wasn’t interested in a conversation, much less a negotiation, so it’s hard to find too much fault with LaHood’s decision.

  15. AG says:

    Tim, there’s no rewriting of history on my part… like I said he opposed the HSR and indeed saw it as a victory that LaHood pulled funding. However, after it was clear his wish to use the money for highways wasn’t possible, he attempted to get at least some funds for the Hiawatha projects. That was ignored, and all funds pulled. I don’t at all think Walker wasn’t at fault… as PMD put it, this was a bipartisan effort in this mess.

  16. PMD says:

    Indeed Walker did ask for federal funds for expanding and maintaining the Hiawatha service. I believe LaHood said “Pfft talk to the hand,” off the record of course.

  17. Tom D says:

    When Walker was elected governor, Madison and Dane County tried to save the train by putting up their own money. Walker simply wouldn’t return their phone calls.

  18. Big Al says:

    To blame LaHood for not negotiating with Walker is BS – why should he? To pretend Walker gets the right to parade around the state yelling about what a “boondoggle” HSR is but at the same time expect those offering to pay for it to beg him to take the money for some other rail projects defies reality. Plus Walker never talked about repurposing any of that $$ for Hiawatha upgrades – it was always about spending it on highways until he realized there was no way that was going to happen. Then he had to cover his butt and pretend to want it for rail.

    The $$ was for the capital costs of a new service along with related costs to upgrade the existing assets (maintenance facility, train station, tracks, etc.). Without the new service, why should the Feds pay for the state-owned train station? The state owns it; they should pay to bring it up to code.

  19. Tim says:

    Thank you for bringing more facts to the table Big Al, it’s important to remember our history as things actually happened. You can’t learn if you never remember your mistakes.

  20. AG says:

    So just to clarify, because it is your opinion that Walker “pretended” to want the funds to upgrade the Hiawatha service that means the “facts” in this case are that he never wanted to use money for the Hiawatha?

    I know he wanted that money for highways until he found out that was impossible. But saying his next move, to use some of the money for the Hiawatha, was not a real gesture is making up your own history. (Notice how you first said he “never” talked about using it for the Hiawatha and then right after you said he did?)

    And by the way, whats this about Walker not having the right to call HSR a boondoggle while also expecting others to beg him to take the money? He has all the right in the world to do that… even though he was wrong. Being a bad idea and having the right to do it are very different.

    Side question: Jeramey, do we know when we will start seeing the new shed actually going up? When does the prep work end?

  21. @AG – Don’t have an exact date for when you’ll really notice visible construction. I never heard back from WisDOT on my questions. Initial documents had the project being completed by the end of the year, so I would assume sometime soon.


  22. Peter Zanghi says:

    Jeramey, regarding the structure itself, do you know if they’re back to using the original design with the curved trusses as shown above or if they’re going with the 2013 re-design shown in the article below? (Hoping it’s the former.)

  23. Peter,

    I do not believe they are. As one reader already pointed out to me via email, I unintentionally used the old version of the train shed renderings. My fault for getting your hopes up.


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