The question was asked during a meeting of the St. Croix County Transit Commission Tuesday in Hudson.
Will there even be enough traffic to support passenger rail from Eau Claire to St. Paul?
Scott Rogers from the Western Wisconsin Rail Coalition (WWRC) believes there is.
“We’ve got over 100,000 vehicles crossing the St. Croix River every day,” Rogers said to the commission. He then made light of the number of cars he saw driving from Eau Claire to Hudson on his commute for the meeting.
“There’s a very high number of people that originate in St. Croix County that goes to the Twin Cities,” he continued. “We are not closing (Interstate)-94 and making everyone take a train. It’s not going to replace the highway.”
Rogers talked about the proposed passenger rail service from Eau Claire to St. Paul and more rail options throughout Wisconsin during his presentation to the Commission.
To review, the WWRC is envisioning a passenger rail service from Eau Claire with stops in Menomonie, Baldwin, Hudson/River Falls and Stillwater. Travel times from Eau Claire to St. Paul would be between 80 to 90 minutes. Four trains would be used daily each way.
The benefits of trains, Rogers said, is they are seen as more convenient and reliable than driving, especially to larger cities with traffic congestion and expensive parking.
Rogers then explained what the WWRC sees as its goals next:
-- The passenger rail service would use tracks that belong to Union Pacific Railroad. Union Pacific is willing to consider hosting the service. In exchange, they’ve asked the WWRC to engage in an engineering study to determine the operating requirements and costs.
-- The WWRC have had discussions with a Chicago-based firm which has the expertise and experience in providing and financing rolling stock. They are interested in being the private sector partner to provide the equipment, find a private operator acceptable to the railroad, and invest in a financing plan.
To back up his point about passenger train interest, he said projects have been completed or are moving forward in the following states besides Wisconsin: Maine, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, California, Washington State and others.
“It will become critical to the future economic competitiveness of West Central Wisconsin to offer rail as an alternative to the sole reliance on the automobile for transportation, especially to and from nearby metropolitan areas like the Twin Cities, Milwaukee and Chicago,” said Rogers. “This is especially true for talent retention and attraction.”
He expanded on his point further by talking about the Milwaukee to Chicago rail line. To make it more appealing for customers, bus routes have been created starting in the Fox Valley area in which one could take to Milwaukee and then onto the rail line. With that in mind, along with other factors, Rogers said rail officials want to increase the round trips a day from seven to 10.
The challenges of course, is to find funding, whether it’s on a local, state or federal level.
Furthermore, he added, a second daily round trip between the Twin Cities and Chicago on Amtrak lines is being proposed as well. An idea to connect this area is creating a shuttle, starting in Eau Claire which would take customers to the Amtrak stop in Tomah.