“That money will be used to replace two railroad bridges, which the U.S. Department of Transportation said would lay the groundwork for eventually raising the speed on the route to 110 mph. Earlier this year, the federal government granted the state $810 million in stimulus money to extend the Hiawatha from Milwaukee to Madison, a 110-mph leg that could one day be part of a Chicago-to-Twin Cities route and a larger Midwestern network of fast, frequent trains,” wrote Sandler.It's more accurate to say that the infrastructure improvement might be a step toward restoring 110 mph speeds on the line, however regular readers have seen my "give them their head to 110" campaign for some time, and infrastructure improvements that allow Hiawathas, whether powered by butt-ugly P-series diesels or by the world's fastest steam locomotives, to mingle with freight trains the way The Milwaukee Road did it during World War II has a benefit-cost ratio that merits the small addition to the national debt it incurs.
The comments to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article include the observation that the current 89 minute trains get people from Milwaukee into Chicago much faster than drive time, and a tribute to the gentleman who offers the trolley service of beverages and snacks on selected trains. (It is a shame, however, that Amtrak can't roll out a Super Dome with downstairs bar, or a buffeteria car, or a Skytop Lounge, let alone a seventh car when loadings are high.)
In related news, the current Wisconsin government has reached an agreement with the national government to commit the entire capital budget for upgrading the tracks from Milwaukee to Watertown and building passenger-capable trackage from Watertown to Madison. One candidate for governor has pledged to stop the Milwaukee to Madison train project. Neither the opponents nor the proponents of the Madison service in Wisconsin have thought things through. The opponents suggest that the money might be better spent on patches to the interstate highways; the proponents fail to stress the usefulness of a Madison to Chicago train that would enable Brookfield residents to get to Chicago without driving to the Airport station, Sturtevant residents to view the antiques and the fall colors in Watertown, or, horrible dictu, north suburban flatlanders to get to college in Madison.
The news tends to speak of Passenger Rail improvements in isolation. Chicago is a logical hub for a midwestern train network, heir to the Rockets and Zephyrs and Hiawathas and Arrows, provided the resulting trains are scheduled with a view toward connectivity.