Cross Bucks 


Cross Bucks 

Welcome to the WHRC's Rail News Pages.

Here is a listing of more current railroad related new events form Wisconsin and around the midwest. These pages will be updated as stories come in. If you have any railroad related news items of interest, please e-mail the webmaster.

Page 6

Old equipment is recycled

MARQUETTE, Mich - Wisconsin Central Railroad has undertaken a pair of projects to recycle and reuse old company assets.

Workers with torches are cutting up the old turntable the railroad used at the old West Baraga Avenue roundhouse, said Robert Ward, chief engineer for administration in Rosemont, Ill.

Wisconsin Central purchased Soo Line Railroad holdings in the Upper Peninsula in the late 1970s. The roundhouse was torn down last year.

Workers are pulling up 35 to 40 miles of steel rail and about 112,000 wooden ties from an abandoned line between Marquette and Munising, Ward said.

"We look for ways to reuse assets any way we can," he told The Mining Journal of Marquette for a s be a 242-unit, $40 million development at the site, said Peter Cummins, president of the Cummins Group, the Chicago-based development company that owns the project.

Townhouses start at $179,000 and top out at $229,000, he said. Two-car attached garages and multi-bathroom combinations are included.

Groundbreaking for the second residential structure, a 28-unit condominium building, probably will be early next month, said Thomas Bullock, real estate broker for the project.

Train plan could find life here

A train plan that derailed in the swamps of Florida could find a smoother ride on Midwestern prairies, rail advocates say.

Two weeks after Florida Gov. Jeb Bush killed a high-speed rail plan for his state, Wisconsin Gov. Tommy G. Thompson publicly threw his support behind a proposal for a nine-state Midwestern high-speed rail network.

At first glance, last month's announcement looked like bad timing on Thompson's part. He and Amtrak officials immediately faced questions about why they were committing themselves to an idea that Bush said wouldn't work.

But on closer examination, the high-speed rail plans appear as different as a Miami summer and a Milwaukee spring. And both supporters and opponents of the Florida plan say those differences give the Midwestern plan a better chance of success.

"The Florida deal was not a good deal," said Thompson, chairman of the Amtrak board. "We're going to do it better."

Wisconsin is leading a nine-state coalition called the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative. Its goal is to set up a $3.47 billion, 3,000-mile network of high-speed and regular-speed Amtrak trains that run frequently from a Chicago hub to dozens of cities.

The Midwestern plan would run diesel-powered trains on existing freight railroad tracks, upgraded for top speeds of 110 mph on four key lines: Chicago to Milwaukee, Madison and Minneapolis-St. Paul; Chicago to St. Louis; Chicago to Detroit; and Chicago to Indianapolis and Cincinnati. Other lines, including one from Milwaukee to Green Bay, would run at 79 mph.

By contrast, Florida's plan would have spent $6.3 billion on a 320-mile line linking Miami, Orlando and Tampa, operated by an Orlando-based private consortium called the Florida Overland Express, or FOX. That was nearly twice as much money as the Midwestern plan, for about one-tenth the service.

"It sounds like you're getting much better value" in the Midwest, said FOX critic John Hedrick, president of the People's Transit Organization in Monticello, Fla.

The FOX plan cost more because it was aiming at 180- to 200-mph service, said Eugene Skoropowski, FOX deputy project director. That required building new tracks equipped with overhead electric lines to run French TGV trains with no grade crossings and no other trains on the tracks, he said. Economics drove FOX to higher speeds, Skoropowski said. Once construction was done, the state wanted FOX to be a self-supporting, profit-making venture, he said. To meet that goal, consortium executives believed they had to run 37 round trips daily, at 20- to 30-minute intervals -- a schedule that only the fastest trains could meet.

Planners also hope the Midwestern network will pay its own operating costs, eliminating the need for state subsidies that now total $20.9 million a year, including $3.4 million from Wisconsin, said Ron Adams, Wisconsin Department of Transportation railroad chief.

Former Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles, Bush's predecessor, had spent more than $22 million studying the FOX idea, which would have required about $2 billion in state money, $2 billion in federal money and $2 billion in private money. Bush yanked the taxpayer money less than two weeks after he took office.

Bush aides did not respond to requests for an interview with the Florida governor.

But in a Jan. 14 news release, Bush said he was skeptical of ridership projections, feared cost overruns and was concerned Congress might not come up with its share of the money. Florida's tax money could be better spent on improving other forms of public transit, roads, airports and seaports, he said.

In contrast to FOX, the Midwestern plan represents the kind of gradual approach that has worked in the Northeast, where 150-mph service is to begin in November, Amtrak President George Warrington said.

The Midwestern approach makes sense for this region, which already has a network of freight railroad tracks in good condition, with more existing passenger trains, Skoropowski said.

Thompson believes the Midwestern network also will benefit from increased interest in passenger rail. He speaks of "a new love affair," growing from frustration with crowded highways and airports, which will be fanned by excitement over the Northeast's high-speed trains.

Ridership has been rising on Amtrak, including the Milwaukee-to-Chicago Hiawatha line. Last year, the Hiawatha provided 392,761 rides, up 6% from 368,976 in 1997, the Wisconsin Transportation Department reported.

Even with growing ridership, however, carrying the rail network to completion will require a continuing political commitment to fund the project, Skoropowski warns.

"A change in Florida undid 14 years worth of work by the (state) Department of Transportation in six days," Skoropowski said.

Milwaukee-Madison in line for 110 mph link

After a generation without service, Madison would get off to a fast start in passenger traffic under a regional rail proposal.

The new Milwaukee-to-Madison line would be one of the first in the Midwest to run trains at 110 mph, under the tentative timetable for the Midwestern Regional Rail Initiative, said Randy Wade, intercity planning chief for the state Department of Transportation.

In its current form, the plan calls for high-speed service between Milwaukee and Madison as early as 2003, or about four years before Amtrak's existing Milwaukee-to-Chicago Hiawatha line is upgraded from 79 mph to 110 mph, said Wade and John Hartz, another state transportation planner.

Passenger train service to Madison ended in 1971.

Under the first phase of the nine-state, $3.47 billion plan, Milwaukee-to-Chicago service would be increased from six to 13 round trips daily, Wade said. Six of those trains would continue on to Madison, providing trips between Milwaukee and Madison in about an hour, and between Madison and Chicago in about 2 1/2 hours, he said.

Meanwhile, Amtrak's Empire Builder, which runs from Chicago to Milwaukee and the Twin Cities, would continue to operate on its current route -- which bypasses Madison -- but would increase service from one to three round trips daily, said Wade and Ron Adams, the Transportation Department's railroad chief.

The next phase of the plan, in about 2005, would provide 110-mph service between Madison and the Twin Cities, with six round trips daily, Wade said.

Finally, in about 2007, Milwaukee-to-Green Bay service would begin, with 79-mph trains running four round trips daily, Hartz said. That's also when Milwaukee-to-Chicago service would be upgraded to 110 mph, he said.

Spending needs determined the timetable, with the highest-impact improvements planned first, officials said.

Officials haven't decided where trains would stop between Milwaukee and Madison, or between Milwaukee and Green Bay, although they said Appleton, Oshkosh and Fond du Lac are candidates on the latter line. To keep trains on schedule, only two or three stops are likely in each case, Adams said.

On the Milwaukee-to-Chicago line, the current intermediate stops -- Glenview, Ill., and Sturtevant -- are likely to remain, with the possible addition of a stop near Mitchell International Airport, Adams said.

Gov. Tommy G. Thompson said he likes the idea of running high-speed trains to Mitchell. With plans for building a third Chicago-area airport in doubt, fast trains would make it easier for Chicago passengers to fly out of Mitchell, he said.

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Changes Last Made: September 7th, 1999