WisDOT: October is 20th anniversary of state support of Hiawatha Service

For more information, contact:

Ron Adams, Chief of Railroads and Harbors

(608) 267-9284, [email protected]

Wisconsin and Illinois support has resulted in substantial ridership increases

Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service provides seven round trips a day between Milwaukee and Chicago transporting three-quarters of a million passengers a year. Trains are frequently full, but that hasn’t always been the case. Shortly after the National Railroad Passenger Corporation was created by Congress in 1970 to take over passenger rail services previously operated by private freight railroad companies, it coined the name Amtrak. Service began between Milwaukee and Chicago in May 1971 with four daily round trips. Over the years, it had as many as five and as few as two round trips a day.

But in October 1989, the states of Wisconsin and Illinois began to provide financial support for the passenger rail service, bringing base service up to five round trips a day. During the first year of the state-supported service, ridership totaled 295,448.

As ridership increased over the years, the two states eventually agreed to sponsor a total of seven round trips, which is the current service level. Last year, Hiawatha ridership totaled 766,167. That increased ridership resulted in the Wisconsin Legislature authorizing the addition of a passenger rail car to the train set to reduce the number of times when there is standing room only.

“We’re extremely pleased with the results we’ve seen by providing the service,” Ron Adams, chief of Railroads and Harbors with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation said. “More people are coming to realize the convenience of taking the train between Milwaukee and Chicago. They don’t have to deal with traffic congestion and steep parking rates and can relax and know they’ll be where they need to be on time. Businesspeople use the time to work on their presentations and leisure travelers can read a book or simply enjoy the scenery.”

Wisconsin and Illinois continue to support the Hiawatha Service, sharing the costs 75/25-percent. Most of the Hiawatha line is in Wisconsin. Wisconsin has also committed to purchase two new train sets to replace the fleet of Amtrak passenger cars to enhance service. Each of the new train sets will consist of 14 cars with a capacity of 420 passengers. The new trains should be in operation within two years.

WisDOT is seeking funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to improve passenger rail service in Wisconsin. The department is seeking $12.4 million dollars to install crossovers in Kenosha County and to extend the platform at the Milwaukee Airport Rail Station to improve the Hiawatha service. It has also applied for funds to develop a $651.8 million extension of the service to Madison, with stops in Brookfield, Oconomowoc, and Watertown. If the application is approved, that service could start as early as 2013.