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.
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.
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
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).
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.
- The Last Train from Talgo – May 29th, 2014 – Bruce Murphy
- Michigan May Get Talgo Trains – April 14th, 2014 – Bruce Murphy
- State Delays on Talgo Claim – December 12th, 2013 – Michael Horne
- Talgo Files Claim Against State – November 8th, 2013 – Bruce Murphy
- State Making Little Progress on Improving Train Shed – May 23rd, 2013 – Michael Horne
- Did the State Screw Talgo? – May 31st, 2012 – Bruce Murphy
- Milwaukee Intermodal Station Train Shed Project to Start in October – September 4th, 2010 – Dave Reid
- Milwaukee Intermodal Train Shed Public Meeting – August 19th, 2010 – Dave Reid
- Senator Kohl Earmarks $1.5 Million for the Milwaukee Intermodal Station – July 14th, 2008 – Dave Reid