Amtrak may soon expand its two passenger trains in Wisconsin – the Hiawatha line from Milwaukee-to-Chicago, and the Empire Builder from Chicago-to-Seattle.
The Wisconsin D-O-T is studying a plan to increase the number of daily Milwaukee-to-Chicago runs from seven-to-10. That’s after record ridership has created standing-room-only conditions on some runs. A proposed second train for the Empire Builder would exclusively serve the Upper Midwest by running from Chicago to around Saint Cloud Minnesota, and not go all the way to Seattle. Minnesota’s D-O-T calls it a “baby step” for increasing service on that corridor, which has also seen growing ridership of 16-percent in 2012. A study for the Milwaukee-to-Chicago Hiawatha expansion could be finished in a few months. The three additional trains would have express routes with stops only at Chicago’s Union Station, Milwaukee’s Mitchell airport, and Milwaukee’s downtown station. It would run at 90-miles-an-hour instead of the present 79, and would cut 11 minutes off the average one-way trip of around an hour. Meanwhile, an environmental study for the Empire Builder expansion is underway. The Wisconsin part of the Empire Builder includes La Crosse, Tomah, Wisconsin Dells, Columbus, and Milwaukee. It would continue to skirt north of Madison, after Governor Scott Walker rejected federal funds for a separate high-speed line from Milwaukee-to-Madison after he was first elected in 2010.