A 2015 feasibility report conducted by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) found that there was a demand for a second Amtrak train between St. Paul and Chicago. The demand comes from expected population and economic growth.The second train stops in a total of 13 stations, including La Crosse.
On Wednesday night, the public had a chance to learn more about the new proposal. Nearly 100 people from across Wisconsin and Minnesota attended the first public informational meeting about the second train. Many of those in attendance already ride the Amtrak and were excited to see what the new proposal would mean for future travel.
"We both like to ride the Amtrak," said John Glady, frequent Amtrak rider. "That's our favorite way to travel. If we have the choice, we'll take the Amtrak any day before we'll fly."
The meeting gave people a chance to have informal conversations with those involved with the project. Then, MnDOT representatives answered questions. The attendance at the meeting was higher than organizers anticipated. It was so high that representatives held not one but two informational meetings to make sure everyone had a chance to be heard.
Those at the meeting overwhelmingly supported the addition of a second train.
"I didn't see any negative comments or anything," said Praveena Pidaparthi, Planning Director in the MnDOT Passenger Rail Office. "Everyone was really supportive."
Frequent train riders see an opportunity for more travel options.
"What one doesn't do is get you to a place, and you can come back the same day on a later train," Glady said.
The proposed train would also have an impact on local business.
"Having this be a stop for La Crosse is essential to our economy," said Vicki Markussen, Executive Director of the La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce. "It gives us access to St. Paul. It gives us access to Milwaukee and to Chicago."
"We have found in other places around the US that where you have major cities connecting each other, when you add additional train frequencies that drives up ridership and really turns that train into a useful tool not only for leisure travelers, but for business travelers too," said Derrick James with Amtrak.
Those on the project believe it will be the support of the public that will push the proposal forward into a reality.
"This is what drives a project, and this what shows the federal agency, too, that the project is needed," Pidaparthi said.
Those interested in sharing their opinions on the proposal are encouraged to reach out to members of their local Department of Transportation. They can also contact local legislators with feedback.
The second informational meeting is being hosted by on Thursday, September 7 at St. Paul's Union Depot starting at 5 p.m.
Cost estimates for the project are expected this fall. Critics believe transportation funds are better spent repairing roads and bridges.
The second train could be running by 2022. It is expected to serve 155,000 riders annually.