Bringing Passenger Rail Service to
West Central Wisconsin
What’s being planned
- Lay the groundwork to start passenger train service to Eau Claire, Menomonie and Hudson.
- Initially, service could begin by implementing the route envisioned in the Minnesota Rail Plan: Four trains each way between Eau Claire and St. Paul/Minneapolis, with auto-competitive travel times and fares.
- Eventually, trains would also run to Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago. Farther into the future, we could be a stop for bullet trains operating between the Twin Cities and Chicago, one of the country’s busiest travel corridors.
Why people ride trains
- For many trips, trains are more convenient and reliable than driving, especially to larger cities with traffic congestion and expensive parking. Time aboard the train can be productive or relaxing vs. time wasted driving.
- Trains will feature comfortable seating, power outlets and WiFi, with food and beverages available.
- Trains even benefit those who don’t use them because they can take thousands of vehicles off the highways at the busiest travel times.
National and regional trends favor passenger rail
- Passenger train and transit ridership throughout the US has grown significantly over the past decade, reaching the highest levels in over 50 years.
- Demographics point to an acceleration of these trends as demands increase for alternatives to the automobile as baby boomers age and millennials prefer other modes, also driving the revitalization of urban core areas.
- Passenger train and transit expansion projects have been completed or are moving forward among a diverse group of states and cities around the country, including Maine, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, California, Washington State and others.
- It will become critical to the future competitiveness of West Central Wisconsin to offer rail as an alternative to the sole reliance on the automobile for transportation, especially to and from nearby metropolitan areas like the Twin Cities, Milwaukee and Chicago.
Challenges and the need for innovation
- Traditional government-funded efforts to develop new systems (even highways) have slowed or stalled due to lack of resources, political gridlock, and slowness to adapt to changing public demands.
- Public Private Partnerships are becoming an increasingly valid tool to leverage limited public investment to gain greater economic and public benefits. The Confluence Project in Eau Claire is an example.
- Rail projects have created significant economic benefits in communities with passenger rail stops. Example: Normal, Ill., on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor utilized a combination of federal funding, local taxes and tax-increment financing to build a transportation center that generated $220 million in economic development.
- Several different forms of private investment and PPPs are part of emerging new projects in Florida, Indiana, Oklahoma, Texas, and other states, including the proposed Twin Cities-Rochester line.
- The West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition has been involved and advocating for local development since 1999.
- The Minnesota DOT State Rail Plan includes a Twin Cities-Eau Claire route in its planned future network. Wisconsin DOT’s Rail Plan 2030, adopted in 2014, includes the Chippewa and St. Croix Valleys in its long-term system plan, but concentrates current resources and planning only on existing routes, Chicago-Milwaukee and the current Chicago-Twin Cities route through La Crosse.
- There is significant traffic and commerce between Eau Claire and the Twin Cities, and the region lies on the most direct route of the Chicago-Twin Cities corridor, one of the busiest travel corridors in the US.
- The existing Union Pacific line – from St. Paul to Hudson, Menomonie, Eau Claire and to the east – can support viable passenger rail service with reasonable capacity upgrades.
Next Steps: Business Plan and Passenger Rail Organizing Council
- Given the strengths of the West Central Wisconsin corridor and need for passenger rail to ensure future economic competitiveness, it’s time to assess, in a comprehensive way, the needs and benefits of passenger rail service, and examine financing and governance options for bringing it forward.
- To accomplish this, the Rail Coalition established the West Central Wisconsin Passenger Rail Organizing Council, charged with exploring the full range of financial, operational and organizational alternatives to establish passenger rail service here, including Public Private Partnerships. It is looking at models being created in other states, and considering various innovations that could be applicable to our region’s specific needs and situation. Several local business leaders are participating in this effort, including representatives of JAMF Software and Royal Credit Union. Dave Christianson, former MnDOT rail planner, is serving as the Organizing Council’s Executive Director.
- The Organizing Council began its work in early 2016. Its ongoing activities include: Reviewing previous plans/studies, identifying potential suppliers and operators, developing relationship with potential partners, considering governance alternatives, investigating financing opportunities, and engagement with local communities and economic development organizations. Discussions are underway with Union Pacific to develop an agreement to confirm infrastructure requirements for the planned service level.
- The goal of the Council is to develop recommendations for the creation of the necessary organization or structure for implementing future passenger services, stations and related facilities.
What you can do
- Stay informed: Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates
- Attend meetings: The Coalition meets most months on the 3rd Thursday at 7:30 a.m., simultaneously at CVTC’s campuses in Eau Claire (620 W. Clairemont Ave.) and River Falls. www.westwisconsinrail.org/events/
- Join as a member: $10 individuals, $25 organizationsSign up online at: www.westwisconsinrail.org/get-involved/
West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition
Mission: The West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition provides leadership and coordination to develop passenger rail service through West Central Wisconsin as part of a regional strategy to ensure a balanced transportation system for long term sustainable economic growth.
West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition, P.O. Box 1294, Eau Claire WI 54702
Prepared by: Scott Rogers, Chair (updated 10/20/16)