BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME. The early returns are in from Sturtevant for Racine, and the paid car park is not discouraging ridership.

During the four full months after the new station opened, from September through December, ridership was up 14%, from 18,933 in the last four months of 2005 to 21,531, state figures show. But ridership was also up 14% in the seven full months before the station opened, figures showed.

August usage was very strong.

Ethan Johnson, program and planning analyst for the transportation department, said the vast majority of riders travel from Milwaukee to Chicago.

There are several reasons for the increase, but the most obvious is that as congestion in and around Chicago gets worse, people see the train as a more viable option.

Other reasons include roller coaster gasoline prices, increased marketing that has raised awareness of the line's availability, and a good on-time record.

Proceeds from the car park are being reinvested in other improvements.

Fees are $2 for every car coming into the lot.

"I know we're making money on the parking, and those funds are helping pay for the operation of the depot," [village administrator Mark] Janiuk said.

The parking fees also have been used to implement suggestions made by riders.

For example, benches were installed in October on the platforms.

Some of the trains have a trolley service of light snacks and beverages. Is there a coffee bar in the station yet?

Elsewhere in Wisconsin, the public choice dynamic is at work.

The gravy train has left the station.

And the conductor is none other than veteran PR maven H. Carl Mueller, who is leading a team of politicians, community activists and lobbyists charged with selling a plan to run a commuter train line from Kenosha to Milwaukee.

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority recently agreed to pay Mueller's team up to $496,000 for nearly 16 months of work.

"In essence, we're becoming the staff . . . for the RTA, which has a huge task in front of it," Mueller said.

The RTA is spearheading plans for a $198 million commuter link that would make 14 round trips daily. The public agency is seeking legislative approval to boost the car rental tax from $2 to $15 per car.

Not exactly Sewer Socialism anymore.

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