The current Amtrak route is served by a single daily train, the long distance Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder. Amtrak studies requested by the Wisconsin and Minnesota departments of transportation show there is strong ridership demand in the market, which would benefit from a second daily schedule option. Because it would begin its route in the Twin Cities, the eastbound train would also be more reliable than the Empire Builder, which can sometimes be significantly late coming from the west.
As part of the prospective new service implementation, the states are considering dedicated shuttle connections to nearby cities not directly served by the train, including Rochester, Eau Claire and Madison. Such connections are successful in adding ridership in other states like California. Last summer, WisDOT added dedicated bus connections from the popular Chicago-Milwaukee "Hiawatha" trains twice a day to Fond du Lac, Oshkosh, Appleton and Green Bay.
The proposed Eau Claire shuttle would travel along I-94 and make direct connection to trains at the Amtrak station in Tomah. The West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition, which is working to establish a multi-frequency Twin Cities-Eau Claire corridor as a public-private partnership on the tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad, has endorsed the proposal as a complementary step to provide residents of the region access to the national passenger train network.
In a resolution it drafted last month, the Coalition noted that many people already drive to the station at Tomah: "This would open up more travel opportunities for area residents and visitors to connect to/from Milwaukee and Chicago via Tomah, and would especially provide improved mobility for students, seniors and others who cannot or do not want to drive 80 miles to access the service."
In a letter to WisDOT Secretary Craig Thompson, the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce noted: "Transportation is a critical component for economic prosperity. The Chamber has long advocated for establishing passenger rail service to our region as an important component for economic competitiveness and talent attraction," and that the shuttle "would enhance the connectivity of our community and be complementary to efforts to obtain future direct train service for Eau Claire."
Funding for the second train would come from the states, leveraged by federal grants. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz has included $10 million for Minnesota's share in his 2020 legislative bonding proposal.
For more information about the Chamber's support of this project, contact Scott Rogers, Governmental Affairs & Workforce Director: email@example.com
Additional passenger train from St. Paul to Chicago closer to becoming a reality (La Crosse Tribune)
Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago Intercity Passenger Rail Service (Minnesota Department of Transportation)
Eau Claire City Council Agenda (See pages 25-28 for proposed resolution)
Eau Claire Chamber Letter (February 20, 2020)
Supporting resolution: West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition (January 23, 2020)
Posted by Scott Rogers, Governmental Affairs & Workforce Director