The Green County Board voted 22 - 6 April 21st, 1999 in favor of completely removing the rail from Monroe to Madison. This move may bring to an end Wisconsin's Green County Depot days forever.
The State of Wisconsin and South Central Rail Transit Commission has already pulled rails from Freeport to Monroe, WI. The Wisconsin portion of the line has been debated ad nauseum from many political perspectives, and Green County was considered pivotal with respect to saving a portion of the Wisconsin trackage. As you can see, Green County has decided to pull the plug.
The Depot Days motorcar rides out of Monticello and Belleville this year will very likely be the last motorcar trips over this line.
Listed below are some of the people responsible for making this decision.
On April 20th, 1999 Madison Capital Times reported that the Illinois Central line from Freeport which has been in limbo for over one year will probably be converted to a "bike trail," due in part to a decision made last Wednesday at the monthly Green County, WI Tourism Committee meeting.
Committee members voted 6-3 to recommend to the Green County board that the rails be removed in Green County.
What makes this whole thing interesting is the South Central Rail Trainsit Commission Vice Chair, Robert Hoesly, New Glarus, WI keeps telling the press that they (the commission) went up and down the line to "drum up a little business," and couldn't find any.
On March 13, AgriService in Belleville, WI. sent a request to the commission for rail service indicating they were willing to ship 3 million bushels of grain yearly on this line. This translates to 875 hoppers of grain and by Agri Service' estimate would take 3200 semi's off the roads.
Hoesly is quoted in the article as saying, 'they are a bit too late." he also is quoted as saying it's been 15 years or more since we've run a car on this line. Mr. Hoesly's mind must be slipping because WSOR ran several trains on the line in the very early 90's. So much for the transit commission wanting to keep rail service or even knowing what's going on on the line.
In 1996 the transit commission was approached by an operator who was shown the door and told the commission couldn't negotiate with him for service because WSOR has a valid lease on the line. In 1997 after WSOR gave up their lease the same operator again approached the commission to operate the line. He was again blown off. Then in 1998 a second operator was interested in the line and he wasn't even given the courtesy of a hearing with the commission. Late last year three Monroe businessmen approached Green County Economic Development Corp. with a proposal to use the line for dinner trains. These guys had the money and the smarts to pull it off.
But what happened? Anna Raggins, Green County Economic Development Corp. Director discouraged them from this endeavor. It should be noted that since Raggins has been the director two communities, Belleville and Brooklyn have pulled out of the Corporation because the felt they were not getting anything from that office for the money spent.
At many meetings Hoesly has told the public that the corridor will be placed in the Wisconsin Rails to Trails program. Oddly there is no such thing in Wisconsin. We have established a lot of rails to trails projects but there is no program as Hoesly claims. Despite being told that there is no program of this sort Hoesly continues to make this claim.
The president of the Sugar River State Trail in Green County, Gof Thomson, is pushing for this to become another trail. What makes this whole thing a very interesting and smelly kettle of fish is Hoesly is on the board of the bank where Thomson is the president, and one of the South Central Rail Transit Commission members is Greg Engen, a loan officer at the same bank.
The Sugar River State Trail has seen falling numbers of users over the past 13 years from a high of 58,900 in 1985 to 31,000 in 1997. Tourist numbers in Green County and especially New Glarus have dropped each year for the past several years.
New Glarus is looked upon as being the jewel of Green County tourism and despite all the tourist trappings New Glarus has they can't draw the bikers one block from the depot to main street.
What does this say for bikers? Having spent the past summer working on our caboose in the depot parking lot we have a birds eye view of the happenings. Bikers come and ride and pack up and go home without going uptown. Until the tourist numbers began dropping most businesses in New Glarus couldn't have given a darn about the trail.
One of the biggest promoters of this new trail isTourism Committee member, Hans Lenzlinger, owner of the New Glarus Hotel. Several years ago told me very bluntly, "that trail doesn't do anything for my business." And he was probably correct.
It's also necessary to mention that for many years Lenzlinger was also in charge of tourist promotion in New Glarus this was during the time the tourist numbers dropped dramatically.
Our third annual Depot Days of Green County is comming up this weekend. We have events in all eight communities in Green County this weekend. A Railfan editor/reporter attended last year and told us that Depot Days was the only event of its type in the U.S. because of the fact that all eight communities worked together to pull off this type of event. If the rails go three of the eight communites have said they will no longer particpate. Never mind that we bring in 4,000 people at a time when the tourist season is just getting going for the season.
If you care about this issue we urge you to call 1-800-527-6838 and ask about Depot Days or leave a message that you want the rails to be left in place so Depot Days can continue.
Southern Wisconsin Railcar Group.