Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Commuter Rail to Foxconn Proposed

Bauman proposes new train from 35th and Capitol to Highway 11 in Racine County.

By - Mar 28th, 2018 03:22 pm
Siemens Charger. Photo by Amtrak.

Siemens Charger now used on the Amtrak Hiawatha Service. Photo by Amtrak.

With Foxconn’s proposed $10 billion factory campus in southern Racine County poised to reshape southeastern Wisconsin, Milwaukee Alderman Robert Bauman has introduced the idea of a commuter rail line to connect city residents to the estimated 13,000 jobs the company is poised to create. The transit advocate has been seeking to draw attention to the need to develop a way for Milwaukee residents, approximately 25 percent of whom don’t have cars, to get to the massive factory campus.

Bauman’s latest idea, which would take riders from a station at N. 35th St. and W. Capitol Dr. to Highway 11 in southern Racine County in approximately 45 minutes, competes with two other public transportation proposals that could deliver Milwaukee residents to Foxconn’s front door. The first, introduced recently by Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors Chairman Theodore Lipscomb, Sr. would have the Milwaukee County Transit System operate a bus line to factory campus from downtown Milwaukee. The other, introduced in February by Bauman, would leverage the expansion of the Amtrak Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee to provide fast service between the city and rural factory campus. All of the options would require additional public financing, something Bauman says should be a non-issue given the state’s willingness to commit over $4 billion to Foxconn.

The commuter rail option would rely on a public entity acquiring and improving the 30th Street Corridor rail line, which runs from the Miller Valley near Highway 175 to W. Hampton Ave. and N. 34th St. The line, which is entirely grade-separated from city streets, is currently owned by the Canadian Pacific. Trains would originate from Century City, running south into the Menomonee Valley, stopping at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station at the edge of downtown, and continuing south to the Foxconn campus.

Representatives of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission were at City Hall Wednesday morning for a meeting of the city’s Public Transportation Review Board to discuss all of the options.

SEWRPC deputy director Kevin Muhs said his organization has already identified the potential commuter rail line as a component of the organization’s Vision 2050 plan. The plan shows a route running to the downtown train station before following the route proposed for the KRM Commuter Rail line along the lakefront and into downtown Racine and Kenosha. Either route is possible said Muhs, but would require coordination with the private railroad that owns the track from the Menomonee Valley to the state line. He informally estimated that the service would take up to five years to begin operating, and would require much of the same infrastructure work Canadian Pacific is requesting to expand the Hiawatha from seven to 10 daily roundtrips. That timeline is similar to the expansion of the Hiawatha Service.

Creating the new commuter rail service would avoid one potential hiccup with the Amtrak plan. An environmental assessment of the Amtrak expansion is likely to be challenged by Illinois residents. “They’re not objecting to additional passenger trains, they’re objecting to the freight trains that would be idling on these sidings,” said Bauman. The $195 million Amtrak expansion plan requires significant infrastructure work in Illinois because of the increased congestion it adds to a corridor that has more than 50 daily Metra commuter rail trains, whereas little work needs to be done in Wisconsin which can more easily accommodate the proposed expansion.

Foxconn Bus Plans

Mums presented SEWRPC’s recent study of a bus route between downtown Milwaukee and Foxconn. The limited-stop service, prepared at Lipscomb’s request, would have a bus stopping along Wisconsin Ave., then at the College Ave. and Holt Ave. park-and-ride facilities before ending at Foxconn. A second line could connect to downtown Racine from Foxconn. “This isn’t by any means an all-day service,” said Muhs. Travel times from downtown to Foxconn would be 45-to-50 minutes according to Muhs, with the schedule designed to sync with Foxconn’s anticipated 12-hour shifts.

SEWRPC has found that the county contracting out the operations of the route could provide more capacity and a higher-quality ride. A coach bus operator would use 55-set coach buses versus the 36-seat county transit buses. Costs would be 10 to 40 percent higher, but if the system is well utilized, the net cost per passenger would likely be lower. If the county operates the service themselves they would need to purchase additional buses at approximately $500,000 each.

Under either scenario a one-way trip is expected to cost $4 if paid for with cash, but much lower on average (MCTS would get an average of $1.80 per trip) because SEWRPC projects there will be substantial use of weekly or monthly passes that offer bulk discounts, and a number of riders paying only a transfer from another MCTS trip. Four daily round trips, a capacity of 220 employees, would require an annual operating subsidy of $150,000 to $530,000, depending on ridership. Increasing the service to 12 daily round trips would increase the subsidy to an estimated maximum of $1.59 million annual expense.

“If you fill the vehicles, it would actually be a relatively high performing route. If you only get 10-15 passengers than it would be among the worst, similar to shuttles to suburban business parks,” said Muhs.

If that’s the case, Bauman noted, you have “these 13,000 (Foxconn) jobs and not to mention other suppliers and other business that will supposedly be created because of Foxconn, if out of those 13,000 jobs if there are going to be 36 people that want to take a bus. I find that ridiculous.”

The alderman then pivoted to Amtrak, noting that expanding the service would be nearly twice as fast as the bus for nearly the same cost. Rides would cost $4.60 each way if the rider paid with a currently available $184 monthly pass for unlimited rides between Milwaukee and Sturtevant and the ride takes about 25 minutes (though it’s coming from downtown Milwaukee rather than 35th and Capitol). Capacity on the route could be relatively easily expanded by adding cars to trains. The expansion, which would cost an estimated $2 million annually, would also be useful for more than just getting directly to Foxconn for Milwaukee.

Muhs offered no view on this versus a bus. “We don’t really have a recommendation if this is the right approach, we only did this at the request of the county board chair,” he said.

The Elephant in the Room

Despite all of this debate, one major problem remains. “You can only do this in careful coordination with Foxconn,” says Muhs. And the company has yet to respond to a request from the city to engage on the topic.

SEWRPC also has not engaged with Foxconn on the mass transit front. In response to a question from county lobbyist and public transportation board member Eric Peterson, Muhs said “no, we have not had discussions with them about this.”

Muhs said the company could operate their own transit system and could also provide a substantial amount of free parking. “Parking costs essentially determine transit ridersip. If they meet the promised salary targets, those people should be able to purchase cars if they choose,” Muhs conceded.

If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits, all detailed here.

27 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Commuter Rail to Foxconn Proposed”

  1. Jake currently of the MKE says:

    Let me guess Republicans live commuter rail now to foxconn, Still hate the trolley that will connect people to iFoxConn, or the rail that would connect Milwaukee to Madison to FoxConn, unless republicans do it, then it will menthe best idea.

  2. Sam says:

    How about just building worker housing next to the foxconn plant?

  3. Terry says:

    Yes of course now, suddenly after years of hating and blocking any and all mass transportation.suddenly Career Politician Scott Walker and republicans will see the light and love trains and mass transit. And just think, all it took was Walker handing a Taiwainese company 4.5 Billion of our tax dollars in corporate welfare for some crappy manufacturing jobs to do it!
    All those other people who needed to get to work for all those years be damned.

    All aboard Walker’s Shame Train!
    Chooo chooo!
    Next stop, poverty and hopelessness!

    Dump Walker 2018

  4. Jake currently of the MKE says:

    Actually I think they will hate the idea. The rail plans to connect inner city Milwaukee to Fox con.

    Republicans will be against it because it gives Milwaukee and black people an opportunity their white supremacist base will be jealous of.

  5. Terry says:

    You are probably right Jake but if it goes through just think, when FoxCON fails in Wisconsin then republicans can blame black people, the working class and the poor like they always do. That “perk” might get them to support it.

  6. Rich says:

    Glad that they didn’t forget about the 30th St corridor ownership and infrastructure challenges that (partially) doomed the last attempt to expand services — that at least shows they’ve done their homework in thinking about it.

    The least the Repugs could do is just get out of the way and allow regional transit authorities. Racine County at least shouldn’t balk at cooperating, since now keeping FoxCon alive will be crucial to their county’s (and Mount Pleasant’s within it) financial well-being. Of course, they’d prefer the direct tax base of housing within their own borders, but that takes time and money to build out as well.

  7. Troll says:

    All of the options would require additional public financing, something Bauman says should be a non-issue given the state’s willingness to commit over $4 billion to Foxconn.

    Bauman assumes a lot. Will the state pay for their housing too.

    All these Democrats given the chace would have voted no on Foxconn but now they want to “help” working class people.

  8. MidnightSon says:

    Can any rail geeks explain if it would be possible to simply take Bauman’s plan and turn it into a Metra extension from Kenosha up into Milwaukee? If that’s possible, wouldn’t that make the most sense in terms of benefit to the greatest number of businesses and people—short term and long term?

  9. Dave says:

    A dedicated bus line please! Permanent rail to Foxconn is bonkers when the Foxconn experiment is still in its infancy….way too costly a potential mistake (and I’m a fan of the Foxconn experiment)

  10. ThatGuy says:

    Dave, honestly even if foxconn doesn’t work out having a commuter rail system would be hugely beneficial to the city. Also, I agree with MidnightSon that adding Kenosha to the line would be great. There needs to be a transit authority that takes over the Streetcar, future BRT, both Racine and Milwaukee busses and any commuter rail lines so that everything becomes a coherent system.

  11. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    Since it looks like Foxconn isn’t putting up any money for these transit services, add them to the billions in subsidies that are already going to the Fox-con.

    I like the ideas out there, but I wish this state cared more about transit as a public good that improves our economy and quality of life vs being hidden tax-funded help for a company that doesn’t deserve any more help.

  12. Mike says:

    The KRM stop alignment needs to be revisited. The bay view stop shouldn’t be in the no man’s land at bay & 794, but at Oklahoma & 794 where the current post office is. That corridor has commercial development opportunities and connects better to 794 & surface streets, and employers. Plus, it improves the stop spacing so that a stop can be added in walkers point at the remediated solvey coke site, which allows for a huge amount of Transit oriented development and integrates better with MCTS surface bus transit.

    Happy this project back on the table. There’s a lot of opportunity for taxable development while improving quality of place.

  13. mbradleyc says:

    Metra is a department of State of Illinois government. The circumstance that has them running to Kenosha is unique and will not be duplicated or extended.

    KRM would run along the line near the lakefront. The line that Bauman is suggesting is different. It is the CP line that Amtrak uses and is very near not only to Foxconn, but also Amazon and Uline.

    Both of these commuter lines make sense and should be implemented.

  14. will says:

    Republicans and Walker turned down 800,000,000.00 million of hard working Wisconsin taxpayers money for better mass transit instead it went to California and other states that have vision for the future not our corrupt GOP dinosaurs.

  15. GRNPAKWH says:

    All of these transportation plans assume one thing, that Foxconn will operate on a regular work schedule. Currently they operate their plants on an as needed basis. This means that when there are orders there will be work and mandatory overtime and when there are no orders the employees will be sent home. In fact, in China they often work employees in excess of Chinese labor laws. Who knew China even had labor laws?
    I have been to China and have seen the giant facilities companies like Foxconn have there. Next to the manufacturing plants are stark concrete buildings housing their employees. Foxconn most likely will do the next best thing and build a giant concrete parking lot similar to the one at the Amazon warehouse in Kenosha. Employees will be on their own to get to work and get home.
    All of our conversation concerning Foxconn just may be for naught. According to a story in Bloomberg,March 18,2018 Apple is developing a new screen to replace the glass screens now used. Apple is also developing its own manufacturing for these screens. While it is questionable if Apple would actually produce these screens in large quantities, the screen Foxconn in Racine is gearing up to build may not be the screen Apple is purchasing. Samsung does its own manufacturing so to whom will Foxconn sell its screens?

  16. mike says:

    @mbradleyc. The KRM alignment is better than the CP. Under this infrastructure regime & going forward, the only way transit projects are going to get funded is if they are paired with value capture. The biggest & best opportunity for value capture in South East WI is in the harbor which is bisected by the KRM. The south end of the harbor is well connected to 43, 794, surface transit, and rail (if this is built along the KRM). The most likely next street car extension will be through Walkers Point. All of that points to the south end of the harbor being an ideal location for substantial commercial/office development & an absolutely ripe value capture opportunity that could carry this project to finish line.

    If it’s either/or, we want KRM.

  17. Joe says:

    The commuter rail would have been up and running by now had the ‘hate mass transit “ Cons under Scott Walker killed the commuter extension from IL to Milwaukee.

  18. Terry says:

    @Russian Troll, yes they would’ve voted no, so as to not hand over 4.5 Billion dollars of working class people’s tax dollars in corporate welfare for a foreign company. What’s not to understand?

    Dump Walker 2018

  19. Sam Insull says:

    When the late, lamented North Shore Line interurban shut down in 1963, the states of Wisconsin and Illinois bought the right-of-way for ‘future transportation use.’ If some or part of this corridor is still in public hands, it might provide an alternative to the already busy routes discussed above.

  20. TransitRider says:

    Sam Insull, I think some of that right-of-way is occupied by I-94.

  21. dragonkat says:

    Metra is a department of State of Illinois government. The circumstance that has them running to Kenosha is very unique and can not be duplicated or extended.

    Mass transportation to the FoxConn site IS NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN!!

    Enjoy your poverty and hopelessness!

  22. dragonkat says:

    Also any Amtrak expansion will be challenged by Illinois residents, we will sue you to stop!!

  23. EricS says:

    Not that I think any of this is actually likely to happen:

    but Metra service could be extended north from Kenosha, so long as some entity (some group of state government and/or local governments) compensated Metra for providing that service, not unlike how the state of Rhode Island pays MBTA (a Massachusetts entity) to extend service into RI or how the state of Delaware pays SEPTA (a Pennsylvania entity) to extend service into DE

    and I’m not quite sure what Illinois residents suing has to do with Amtrak service

    Anyway, at the end of the day, I think we’ll be lucky to get some sort of express bus service linking the city to Foxconn and perhaps shuttle bus service linking the Amtrak station in Sturtevant to Foxconn as well.

  24. TransitRider says:

    Several points on a possible Metra northward extension beyond Kenosha…

    Metra/RTA used to operate 3 lines into Wisconsin:
    • The UP-North line to Kenosha
    • The UP-NW line to Lake Geneva
    • The Milwaukee District-NW line to Walworth

    The Lake Geneva and Walworth services (just one daily roundtrip each) were dropped (I think) in the 80s or 90s, but the Kenosha service continues. Why? Because Metra stores trains overnight in Kenosha (there’s no other facility north of Waukegan) so their trains are going to Kenosha anyway.

    The most unique thing about the Kenosha service is that it continues without any Wisconsin subsidy. There are many similar situations on the east coast (e.g. NYS pays NJ Transit to operate 2 lines in NY; CT pays NY’s MTA for 4 lines in CT; DE pays PA’s SEPTA; RI subsidizes MA’s MBTA) and no reason Metra couldn’t operate to Racine or even Milwaukee if Wisconsin chipped in.

    I realize that, during the KRM planning, Metra was asked if it would be interested in running the KRM line and they said “No,” but bureaucrats are trained to always say “No” at first. (It’s much easier to change a “No” to a “Yes” later than it is to go the other way.)

  25. TransitRider says:

    EricS, here is how Illinois residents could affect Amtrak expansion.

    The tracks’ owner, CP, claims any Hiawatha expansion must come with a separate southbound platform at Mitchell Field, some new tracks downtown (allowing freight trains to bypass Milwaukee’s train station) and with new holding tracks at several places in Illinois. Those projects are controversial in Illinois:

    These proposed improvements are in the news because Scott Walker is pushing to add 3 daily Hiawatha round trips for $195 million in one-time startup costs. That $195 million would cover the Mitchell airport station expansion, the added tracks in Illinois, and new locomotives and train cars.

    Ironically, the Madison train extension that Walker opposed actually included adding those 3 daily roundtrips to Chicago. If Walker weren’t elected, we would have 10 daily roundtrips to Chicago (including hourly service at rush hour) and 6 daily roundtrips to Madison. And 100% of the startup costs would come from Washington (from taxpayers in all 50 states).

    Wisconsin’s total cost for this added service as part of the Madison train extension would be $0 upfront and less than $7 million/year in operating subsidy. The annual ongoing subsidy was pegged at $7 million, but part of that was for the extra Milwaukee-Chicago trains (which Walker agrees must be spent). Also, Illinois pays 25% of the Hiawatha subsidy.

    Instead, Wisconsin taxpayers are facing at least $156 million (80% of $195 million—since Trump now limits federal subsidies to 20%) in one-time costs plus the cost of upgrading the state-owned track between Madison and Watertown (now in such poor shape that freight trains are limited to 10 mph for safety).

    So, by “saving” Wisconsin taxpayers less than $7 million/year in operating subsidy, Walker now proposes to charge Wisconsin taxpayers up to $195 million up-front PLUS a few million a year in operating subsidy for the 3 extra trains.

    Walker is far, far from being a financial genius.

  26. EricS says:

    Ah, yes, I guess I was somewhat aware of the controversy surrounding the additional trackage proposed in Illinois – although “we will sue you” is a vast oversimplification of the issue. At this point, it’s not altogether clear whether the opponents of the expansion will prevail upon the state government to oppose the project. If so, then the project goes nowhere. If not, and Illinois joins Wisconsin in an effort to fund the expansion (using some combination of federal and state funding), then the project may move forward.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us