7.8.09

BUILD THE STATIONS WHERE THE PASSENGERS ARE. Brookfield, an upscale suburb in automotive-addicted Waukesha County, wants an Amtrak stop.
The proposed station would be located in the Village Area along Brookfield Road near River Road. Construction costs, which would be covered by federal stimulus funds, would include a new station, a 300-plus-stall parking lot and train platforms, said Dan Ertl, the city's director of community development.
The old station, at the west end of the split-grade line out of Milwaukee, still stands.

In Madison, an organization called Dane Alliance for Rational Transportation suggests a station in the wye connecting the Watertown Sub with the Portage Sub to set passengers down closer to Capitol Hill and the University. The station is not as close to the capitol as the Alton gets in Springfield or to the University as the Illinois Central gets in Champaign, but it is a lot closer than the station at the airport. The proposal is for a station on a curve, which is less of a problem with a fixed-formation train, at a location where a signal to allow the train onto the Portage Sub might be restrictive, but it envisions a relatively short platform. There's more conversation about this proposal at Trains for America.

The recession has reduced ridership on the existing Hiawathas.
In recent years, Hiawatha ridership nearly doubled, from 397,518 in 2002 to 766,167 last year, with a 24% jump in 2008 alone. That 93% ridership boost wasn't enough to convince the Legislature to authorize an eighth daily round trip in the 2009-'11 state budget, but it seemed to bolster the administration's case for buying the two Talgo train sets, which will increase capacity from 350 to 420 passengers on each trip.
I'm worried about Wisconsin repeating the McGinnis mistake of buying relatively spartan trains.

To help attract riders, the Talgo trains will offer amenities the Hiawatha doesn't have now, [Ron] Adams [of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation] said. Seating will be "first-class for everyone," with wider, more comfortable seats and more leg room, he said.

State officials also want to provide Wi-Fi service on the new trains, Adams said. Other improvements, such as bicycle racks, are still under study, he said. Baggage space will be similar to current trains, and the state doesn't plan to add café cars, he said.

[Republican state senator from River Hills Roberta] Darling remains skeptical.

"People love the Amtrak, they just love the Hiawatha, but I have never heard them demanding that we upgrade the trains so they will ride them," Darling said.

State officials have said the Talgo trains' lightweight construction and tilt-train technology - which lets them take sharp curves at high speeds - would be advantages for 110-mph service on the Milwaukee-to-Madison line and for a planned upgrade to high-speed service all the way from Chicago to Minneapolis-St. Paul.

There's still a lot of work to do to get back to what was routine once. Bear in mind that an eight-coach traditional Hiawatha (.pdf) offered 420 "wider, more comfortable seats and more leg room" ahead of the Super Dome, which had a tap lounge in the bomb bay, and the Super Dome was marshalled ahead of the dining car and at least one parlor car with genuine first-class seating behind the diner. For busy periods, the coach yard could cut in another coach or two.

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