The Minnesota Department of Transportation, along with the La Crosse Area Planning Committee plan to bring a proposal for a second Amtrak train to residents of the Coulee Region this week.
The proposal stems from a 2015 feasibility study that found a second train would grow the market and help serve a growing population of people living along the corridor between St. Paul and Chicago. Currently, Amtrak's Empire Builder runs from Seattle to Chicago once a day. As a result, riders can catch the train in La Crosse in the morning or in the evening. A second train, according to MNDOT, would provide riders with increased reliability and convenience.
"Currently about a fourth of the people who ride the train between Seattle and Chicago get on or off between St. Paul and Chicago," Dan Krom, director of MNDOT"s Passenger Rail Office, said. "So its a really reasonable transportation benefit for communities along the corridor and connects relatively well to local buses and other transport services."
Krom along with several other representatives from MNDOT will present information to the public about the proposal at a meeting Wednesday night at the La Crosse County Administrative Center. The meeting runs from 5 to 7 p.m. with a presentation beginning at 5:30.
"La Crosse is typical of communities along the corridor," he said. "You have limited air service, inner city bus service, but primarily folks travel by car along the corridor. We want to provide a travel option that is affordable, environmentally sound and reliable."
Krom said the project would involve multiple agencies, including the Wisconsin DOT and Illinois DOT, along with the Federal Railroad Administration.
"If everything lined up perfectly and funding was available and we could reach agreements with the railroads, the best case scenario is we could have a second train up and running 2020," he said.
Krom estimates 70 percent of operating costs will be covered by passenger fares. The rest would be funded by an undetermined formula for cost sharing between the states.
However, help from the federal government is yet to be seen.
Tom Faella, executive director of the La Crosse Area Planning Committee, said political support will be critical in helping get the project off the ground.
"I think a second train would bring more tourists in," he said. "A lot of people who are into tourism like rail transportation and if they had more opportunities to get here, they would come."
Cynthia Uhrich lives in St. Paul but uses the Empire Builder to travel between home and Milwaukee for work.
"I love to travel by train because I love to be able to look out the window and see the countryside going by," she said. "I like that I can get up and stretch my legs. It takes a little longer than flying, but I feel safer on the train and more comfortable."