Trains from Milwaukee to Chicago and St. Paul, Minn., may be faster and more frequent in the near future, as Amtrak and transportation departments in Wisconsin and neighboring states study the possibility of expanding service on regional routes.That's converting 89 minute trains to 78 minute trains. The Cold Spring Shops Free Rein to 110 campaign involves spending additional money on signalling and crossing protection, compared to boosting train speeds to 90 (yes, yes, the Hiawatha used to Reduce to 90 for Rondout and the State Line curve). "The Cold Spring Shops position, however, is that incremental improvements -- where incremental can mean getting rid of those post-war Interstate Commerce Commission regulations that ended 110 mph running on block-signalled railroads with jointed rail -- will build ridership in such a way that subsequent upgrades to bullet trains make more sense."
Encouraged by ridership that has doubled over the past decade and standing-room-only conditions on some trains, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation has plans to add three express trains to the Hiawatha route, boosting the number of trips a day from seven to 10.
The express trains would skip local stops, serving only Union Station in Chicago, Mitchell International Airport and downtown Milwaukee, and reach a maximum speed of 90 miles per hour, compared with 79 mph now, decreasing travel times by 11 minutes.
"The department really feels that people are becoming aware of the Hiawatha service and its convenience, and are looking for alternative modes of transportation," said DOT spokesman Brock Bergey.
In a 2011 survey by the Texas Transportation Institute, more than half of Hiawatha passengers on weekdays were commuting or making a business trip, while about three in four weekend passengers were visiting family or taking a trip for fun. A significant number of passengers, 14%, said that if the train weren't available, they would not have made a trip. Avoiding highway congestion was the primary reason people took the train.Let's hope that the added schedules permit shifting one of the 89 minute trains ... 85 minute trains? to late evening, for those Summerfest or Lyric Opera or just out for dinner on the Mag Mile or in East Towne to go on a date and return the same evening.
A recently completed project has paved the way for added trains by making it easier for passenger and freight trains to bypass one another on the tracks and stay on time, Bergey said. New crossovers, which allow trains to switch tracks, and other infrastructure went into operation in January, according to Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd., a publicly traded freight company that owns the tracks.
But wait, there's more ...
Ridership growth is also driving plans for a second daily train on the Empire Builder route, which grew by 16% from 2011 to 2012, that links Chicago, Milwaukee, the Twin Cities and stops to the west, including Seattle, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said. Amtrak is conducting the study.A Minnesota planner refers to the St. Cloud train as a "baby step" toward increased service. Or toward restoring what used to be. "Consider a network consisting of Chicago - Madison - Portage - LaCrosse - Rochester, Chicago - Milwaukee - Portage - LaCrosse - St. Paul, possibly continuing to St. Cloud, Fargo, and Grand Forks." Leave the Chicago - Madison - Portage for another day. I give you the April 10, 1974 Amtrak system timetable. Westbound, the North Coast Hiawatha operated daily Chicago - Minneapolis, and tri-weekly west of there, leaving Chicago at 10.30, Minneapolis (the now-demolished station) 7.00, calling at St. Cloud 8.15 and arriving Fargo at 11.20. The Empire Builder operated via Willmar in those days, leaving Chicago at 2.30, Minneapolis at 10.45, and arriving Fargo 3.25 and Minot at 9.00. Eastbound the Builder left Minot at 7.55, Fargo 1.25, overnight to Minneapolis with a 7.00 departure, and arriving Chicago 2.50. The triweekly Hiawatha left Fargo at 6.40, St. Cloud 10.15, made a 45 minute stop at Minneapolis (on the days it operated, it switched in additional coaches there), leaving at 12.30 with an 8.20 arrival in Chicago. Make use of some of that faster track on the Old Milwaukee Road and these schedules can be tightened.
"A second round-trip is a significant improvement for passengers by providing more same-day trips without overnight stays and by making it more likely our scheduled arrivals and departure times meet their travel needs," Magliari said.
A draft of a feasibility study should be available in December, and would focus on adding a second train at current speeds, 79 mph. It would terminate in St. Cloud, Minn., instead of continuing on to Seattle as the existing route does.
Several groups in favor of expanding the Hiawatha and Empire Builder routes say both lines have had proven success and would be a boon for the economy.Frequency, connectivity, convenient times, reliable schedules. Build it and the riders come.
The added trips on the Hiawatha, in particular, would be positive for economic development, strengthening a vision of southeastern Wisconsin, Chicago and northwestern Indiana as one mega-metro area, said Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce spokeswoman Julie Granger.
"The stronger connections we have to what is a huge thriving city can only benefit the region," Granger said.