County board backs rail service expansion project
While it was mostly symbolic, the Monroe County Board last Wednesday voted for a resolution to support a project expanding a passenger rail service project that affects the county.
The resolution, brought before the board by Tomah Supervisor Adam Balz, advocates for the Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago (TCMC) passenger rail project, which would add a second daily trip to the Amtrak route.
According to the resolution, Tomah, a stop on the route, had more than 11,000 passengers board or disembark at its Amtrak depot.
The project has been selected to receive a $31.8 million federal rail grant. Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Amtrak are required to provide $21.2 million in matching funds in order to accept the award.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation expects to cover $6.2 million of the project using its existing bond authority.
The WisDOT says the improvement to the passenger rail through the project will make it more valuable and useful to communities along the corridor.
It increases the existing rail service on the corridor from one round-trip daily to two daily round-trips. The new round-trip will have a shorter travel time and greater on-time performance and reliability for regional trips – especially important for business and student travel, according to the DOT.
The expanded service also would double schedule options making more regional trips viable by rail. For example, says WisDOt, it enables a one overnight business or personal trip to the Twin Cities, Milwaukee, or Chicago from mid-size and rural communities in Wisconsin and Minnesota, which is not possible with the current one-round-trip schedule.
In addition, it supports tourism efforts among communities on the route as well as supports communities’ abilities to attract and retain jobs and business through improved connectivity to the economic centers of the region.
“The expanded service provides a much-improved connection between the Midwest economic hubs of Minneapolis/St. Paul, La Crosse, Milwaukee and Chicago,” Craig Thompson, WisDOT Secretary-designee said. “Just as important is the enhanced service for residents in the many rural communities. They will have increased travel options, with better reliability and on-time performance.
Recommended infrastructure improvements to implement the additional round trip include:
• Communication and signaling upgrades
• Rail siding extensions
• Street-level crossing improvements
• Extending yard lead track
• New turnouts and mainline track reconstruction and modifications
The grant application received broad support from communities, stakeholders, business groups, state legislators, as well as members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation.
Amtrak contributed $5 million to match the grant for the project. The first year of TCMC rail service is anticipated to begin in 2024.
The Monroe County resolution requests that the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance approve the WisDOT’s bonding authority for the project when it votes on the measure later this year.