Taking the train into Chicago can be fun, but if you live in the Madison area you currently have to do a bit of a two step to reach the track that takes you there. You can drive north to Columbus, east to Milwaukee, or south across the Illinois border to Harvard to hop Amtrak’s Hiawatha line to Chicago’s Union station. Last night, the Madison Common Council authorized funding for a study to advance the plan to eliminate this two-step, that will also provide rail service directly to Milwaukee.
WORT reported earlier this year that interest in the line between Wisconsin’s two largest cities was renewed when the federal infrastructure bill passed in 2021. When Amtrak released their maps for expanded rail across the country–Madison was on that map. The initiative is high on the list of priorities for Mayor Rhodes-Conway, as she mentioned at the time:
“That’s a really key piece of this. And now with them saying Madison is on our map, we want a station in Madison, we want to come through Madison, That’s one really key piece that I think helps make this a reality. The other important piece is that there is funding in the bipartisan infrastructure law for rail transfer, for passenger rail.”
The $120,000 study was introduced in the Common Council last night, and moved forward without debate, authorizing the next steps in working with the chosen vendor.
Philip Gritzmacher is a transportation planner for the City of Madison, he says that the chosen vendor is an ideal partner for this project:
“HNTB is a nationally renowned vendor of planning services for rail. They worked initially on the high speed rail project back when that was going on in the 2010s, so we feel comfortable and confident in their ability to work on this particular project, they have a great deal of experience working with rail,” Gritzmacher said.
The study will build on several passenger rail studies released in 2021. Amtrak’s plan recommends extending the Hiawatha service to Madison, potentially with four daily trips. The US Department of Transportation’s 2021 rail plan, contends that passenger rail service to Madison is key for the Midwest. Gritzmacher added that the contractor, HNTB, will help the city take the next critical steps for plan approval.
“They will help us where the best station would be, update some of the background data from the previous studies that we have had related to high speed rail, and then work with us on our public engagement process to make sure the public is onboard with the location they identify.”
The city is targeting early 2023 for approval of the location of the new train station. In the meantime, work to build upon previously complete infrastructure to support the venture will continue.
“There are things that are going on concurrently, we are certainly reaching out to our partners in other communities along the corridor and with other related agencies to make sure that we have all or our ducks in a row. A number of the improvements needed to make this happen were actually completed back in 2010 when high speed rail was being discussed, so many of the track enhancements have been made, and some of the support infrastructure such as a maintenance facility, has been completed,” Gritzmacher said.
Alder Charles Myadze represents part of Madison’s northside and sits on the city’s transportation committee. He says that while rail connecting Madison to Milwaukee is needed, he’s also a proponent of similar light rail systems within the city.
Next stop for the project is discussion with the City of Madison Transportation Policy and Planning Board and Finance Committees next week. Two city committees are slated to take up discussion on the project next week.