GREEN BAY (WLUK) -- Another step in the process has been reached to possibly bringing passenger rail back to Northeast Wisconsin for the first time in more than 50 years. However, a lot still needs to happen.
A $500,000 federal grant has been awarded to study the possibility of extending passenger rail service from Milwaukee to Green Bay.
“We're anticipating there would certainly be a demand for it,” said Eric DeKorne, Vice President of Development for Greater Green Bay Chamber.
DeKorne says businesses have been contacting the chamber about their support for a train.
Chambers across the state teamed up to write a letter, applauding the grants, which were also awarded to study rail expansion for four routes in the western and southern parts of the state.
“We're hearing that businesses would be in support of it to try to help economic impact throughout the community, helping with talent and attraction and also helping with tourism as well,” said DeKorne.
The Green Bay to Milwaukee train would make stops in Appleton, Oshkosh, and Fond du Lac.
Amtrak estimates it would take 2 hours and 50 minutes one way and would operate round trip three times a day. That compares to about 2 hours or less in a car and 2 hours and 25 minutes for the Amtrak bus that currently runs directly between Green Bay and Milwaukee.
“Right now, we know approximately 35 people a day use the buses on that same route,” said State Sen. Eric Wimberger, R-Green Bay.
Members of the Republican-controlled state legislature, like Wimberger, have been skeptical of investing in passenger rail expansion. Wimberger says he isn't against public transportation and doesn't see harm in studying the issue, but he doubts the state and local matching funds likely needed would be worth it.
“The idea that people are suddenly going to switch to a train, I just don't see it,” said Wimberger.
“It's one of those things we have to keep pushing forward and the fact we have this funding that we can do this study, hopefully that will give us the tools and the data that we need to move that decision in the direction we're hoping for,” said Becky Bartoszek, President and CEO of Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce.
If the right people can be convinced, Amtrak has said after all the studies are completed, it typically takes six to 10 years to get a rail corridor operational.
Amtrak has previously told FOX 11 there are tracks capable of reaching 79 miles per hour between Milwaukee and Neenah, but signals would need to be upgraded to reach that speed on tracks to Green Bay.
The study is expected to identify the scope, schedule and cost estimate for preparing a service development plan.
Five new routes in Wisconsin have been selected to receive $500,000 each in planning and development grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration’s Corridor Identification and Development (Corridor ID) program.
The Corridor ID Program is a comprehensive intercity passenger rail planning and development program that will help guide intercity passenger rail development throughout the country and create a pipeline of intercity passenger rail projects ready for implementation.
Through the Corridor ID Program, the following projects will receive funding:
Milwaukee to Green Bay: The proposed Corridor would connect the existing Hiawatha service between Chicago and Milwaukee with an extension to Green Bay.
Milwaukee to Chicago: The proposed Corridor would provide improvements to the existing Hiawatha service between Milwaukee and Chicago, by adding new frequencies.
Milwaukee to Madison to Eau Claire: The proposed Corridor would connect Milwaukee to Minneapolis through Madison and Eau Claire. The proposed Corridor would provide new service on an existing alignment.
Eau Claire to Twin Cities: The proposed Corridor would connect St. Paul to Eau Claire. The proposed Corridor would provide a new service on an existing alignment.
Chicago via La Crosse to St. Paul: The proposed Corridor would initiate a new daily round-trip between Chicago and St. Paul to complement the existing Amtrak long-distance Empire Builder, with an extension to Minneapolis
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