Mark Weitenbeck, treasurer with the Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers, said a new funding model that provides more federal dollars to ease the upfront burden on states could help bring a new passenger rail route through Madison, a prospect Democrats hoped would come to fruition about a decade ago before Republicans won control of state government and ended the project.
“It’s always helpful to know that Amtrak is going to be a full partner in this,” Weitenbeck said. “It is kind of a game changer, and it certainly makes it easier to sell it.”
But before an expansion of the Hiawatha service comes anywhere near reality, the Amtrak first will need to complete plans for a second passenger train between St. Paul and Chicago, with six stops in Wisconsin including at Wisconsin Dells and Milwaukee. Currently, the new offering is expected to begin daily service in 2024.
“Until we get the (Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago route) going, none of the rest of this is going to happen,” Weitenbeck said. “If we can’t make that happen, the rest of this is just whistling in the wind.”
The prospect of passenger rail expansion has been an on-again, off-again conversation in Wisconsin, with the state previously being in line to receive $810 million in federal funding to build a Madison-to-Milwaukee high-speed rail system — a proposal supported in 2010 by then-Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat.