FREE REIN TO 110, IN MY LIFETIME?  Wisconsin's governor wasn't interested in speeding up access to Madison from Chicago's northern suburbs, or to Chicago from Oconomowoc, but he's happy to take federal money to achieve the fastest running time ever for Milwaukee trains.
Gov. Scott Walker's administration announced Tuesday that the state will seek at least $150 million to add equipment and facilities for Amtrak's Hiawatha line.

Walker said the money would be used to upgrade service on the Hiawatha line, as a step toward increasing the speed of the trains to nearly 110 mph and reducing the trip time from 90 minutes to one hour. If the improved service draws more riders, the number of round trips could be increased, he said during a news conference in the Milwaukee Intermodal Station.

The governor said he expected Illinois, Michigan and Missouri would join in the application for the federal dollars, part of the $8 billion rail element of President Barack Obama's administration's stimulus package.

In a bizarre twist, some of the money that Walker now seeks originally was allocated for the Milwaukee-to-Madison route he previously turned down. That money is available because a fellow Republican governor rejected it as well.

Walker said the money would allow Wisconsin to buy two more train sets and eight locomotives and to build a maintenance facility for that equipment and two train sets now under construction.

But speeding up the trains would require additional track improvements in future years, said Reggie Newson, executive assistant to state Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb.

The locomotives, train sets and maintenance base would have been covered by the earlier $810 million grant. But the maintenance base, originally envisioned as a $52 million facility in Madison, now would be a $60 million facility at the Talgo Inc. train plant in the Century City complex on Milwaukee's north side.
Cold Spring Shops endorses the faster running times, and the enhanced frequency.

The newspaper, no fan of the new governor, notes that his decision to seek federal money for the Hiawathas creates a political controversy.
Asked about the apparent reversal in his position on rail initiatives, Walker said he always had supported improvements to the Hiawatha. It's a popular and established service, without the local opposition that complicated the Milwaukee-to-Madison link he campaigned against.

"This is not inconsistent with the position I took in the past," he said.

Milwaukee Ald. Robert Bauman called the governor's pursuit of federal stimulus money for the Hiawatha "rank hypocrisy."

Walker criticized federal stimulus spending during his campaign and rejected federal money that could have been used for the maintenance building on the city's north side. The state will pay more for that facility than if it had accepted the initial $810 million, Bauman said.

The Hiawatha provides the Midwest's most frequent and heavily used Amtrak service. It's one of the top 10 routes nationwide, nearly doubling ridership in the past eight years, to a record 792,848 last year. Ridership has continued to rise, notching gains of almost 8% each in January and February, on a pace to exceed 850,000 this year.
The choice of a fixed-formation train, the Talgo, that cannot easily be strengthened by adding cars, seems unwise in light of the increasing ridership, and the likely further increases induced by more frequent trains, later into the evening, and by rising fuel prices.  The current Hiawathas are six-car rakes, up from the four cars that protected each trip in 2004.

The 75 minute trains of 1951 frequently ran with up to a dozen cars, inclusive of parlor cars and tap-lounges or dining cars.

The Alco diesel set at the right would have been capable of protecting a 60 minute schedule, something that was envisioned for the 1938 steam Hiawathas.


Faster, please.

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