When the new St. Croix River Crossing bridge came to fruition after years of planning, it was seen as the latest or quickest way to connect western Wisconsin to the Twin Cities area.
Now, a local group of selected businessmen and politicians have started discussions about connecting the two areas one step further.
The St. Croix Valley Rail Group along with the West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition met earlier this month with goals, according to its meeting packet, to begin “planning and discussion of topics and issues related to local (St. Croix and Pierce counties) aspects and interests of the passenger train from St. Paul to Eau Claire with a stop in Hudson-River Falls.”
About each group
The West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition has existed for over 20 years as a voluntary group and is now incorporated. While members are composed largely of leaders from Eau Claire, the group is starting to incorporate members from the St. Croix area.
The St. Croix Valley Rail Group formed five years ago and has seen a sharp growth in interest in the last six months. It is a citizen-based group which will take its advice from the Rail Coalition.
In today’s world, where everything seems to be up for debate or discussion, these facts concerning the train aren’t.
• The train will run on Union Pacific owned and operated rail tracks.
• Four round trips a day between Eau Claire and St. Paul, with a possibility of a fifth.
• No government funding will be sought. “No new tax dollars are envisioned to be requested,” the packet said.
• “The cost isn’t an item for discussion in the train planning meeting,” the packet also said.
The likely stops on the route would be Menomonie, Hudson/River Falls and Stillwater. Baldwin could be considered a stop, especially for commuter services, the packet states. An example, would be an early morning westbound run, starting at Eau Claire, getting to St. Paul at 7 or 7:30, turn around and heading back to Baldwin, goes back to St. Paul and then Eau Claire.
The packet supplied to all members from the meeting highlights how a passenger train would affect the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
Among the factors: Research shows kids born after 2000 prefer trains over cars; nearly half of UWRF’s students come from the Twin Cities area; cities with Minnesota colleges (Duluth, Winona, Moorhead, St. Cloud) are getting trains or more trains and in Wisconsin, UW-LaCrosse, UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee also already have train service and will get more.
“So potential UWRF students will have a choice, between traveling to-and-from college on a train – studying, being safe, saving money and saving the planet – and driving,” said in the packet. “Some will choose UW-RF for its unique disciplines, but “some” isn’t enough.”
If the stop doesn’t include the name River Falls, officials stated UWRF could lose brand identity and ability to recruit students who want a train-serviced university.
Right now, not years from now
While the new bridge took years, heck decades, of planning, officials stated in the packet the train can’t afford it.
A high-speed train is in the works which will run from Chicago to the Twin Cities with likely stops in Eau Claire, Milwaukee and Madison.
“If Eau Claire gets the high-speed train first, there is speculation that there may be little or no incentive for either the Twin Cities or Eau Claire to prioritize our local train over local trains to other similar sized cities near the Twin Cities,” the packet states.
The proposed version of the West Central Wisconsin High Speed Rail.