A few days ago I noted
some I94 construction and the possibility of the return of passenger rail to Madison. Tonight The Cap Times quotes WisDOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi as saying that Madison could have Amtrak service within three years
While certainly good news, the piece is a bit misleading.Congress last week passed legislation that could finally put a Chicago-Madison-Milwaukee high-speed passenger Amtrak rail in place.
High-speed passenger rail travels around 200mph - bullet trains.**** In the near term, Madison is looking at normal, plain old Amtrak service which travels along freight rail lines. We're talking more like 80mph. It is certainly true, as the article says, that "Planners hope eventually to create a 3,000-mile Midwest high-speed rail network spanning nine states, with Chicago as the hub", but that's a long way off and would require a massive investment in new track that can handle the 200+mph maximum speeds of true "high-speed" rail.As currently envisioned, the Amtrak line will work in conjunction with the commuter rail, getting passengers to a station at the Dane County Airport where they can pick up commuter lines to downtown Madison and other commuter stops, according to David Trowbridge, Transport 2020 project manager. Amtrak would also use the same rail lines as the commuter service from the east end of the commuter line on Reiner Road, two miles west of Sun Prairie, to Madison.
Busalacchi is quoted: "We're not ready. If people start a mass exodus to trains, we're not ready because it takes a lot of equipment and a lot of infrastructure to do this."
Intercity and freight rail both run on the same tracks. While freight trains must yield to Amtrak, our rail lines are congested
. Adding commuter rail into the mix could make Madison a nice little bottleneck. Don't count on that Empire Builder to be on time.
And I wonder why plans would put the Amtrak station at the airport. When there was talk of this several years ago, a downtown stop and one at Johnson & Fordem were also vying for consideration and it seems to me that an Amtrak stop downtown would be best. Perhaps that is ruled out by the prospect of commuter rail on the same tracks. At this rate, we'll have Amtrak service before commuter and the initial 16 miles of commuter rail as laid out in Transport 2020 don't call for a line to the airport - that comes later.
There is much planning to be done and millions of dollars to be appropriated before Madison sees regular passenger rail service for the first time since 30 April 1971
****I think for us "high-speed" is going to be more like 110MPH. Still, use of existing freight lines necessitates slower speeds.