La Crosse-Minnesota High-Speed Rail Route
Posted: November 25, 2011
The announcement last week that federal transportation officials have selected the LaCrosse-Minnesota route for a high-speed railroad line in lieu of a proposed route through Eau Claire and on to the Twin Cites was a big blow to a number of people who spent a lot of time and effort hoping to bolster the West Central Wisconsin economy of the future. However, as I look back on the process, the thought of a high-speed train passing through Eau Claire from Tomah instead of going through LaCrosse (like Amtrak does now) was probably a long shot at best.
Despite all of the facts that supported a high-speed rail network being built through the Chippewa Valley, it was clear to me that the LaCrosse-Minnesota route was preferred from the outset. Even though LaCrosse and Minnesota transportation officials attempted to not be too confident, there was always this underlying assumption that a rail line was not going to be developed through Eau Claire connecting Madison and Milwaukee to the Twin Cities.
When Governor Scott Walker declined the $810 million in federal stimulus funds for a rail line from Milwaukee to Madison, the writing was on the wall: Wisconsin didn't want high-speed rail - except for travelers going from Milwaukee to Chicago. Plus, when local officials established the Wisconsin Gateway Corridor Coalition to study the possibility of adding even light-rail transit in West Central Wisconsin, the governor put the brakes on allowing the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to host any public information meetings.
It would have been cool to hop on a train, whether high-speed or light rail, from Eau Claire to the Twin Cities and back. And, even though there is still a long shot that light-rail transit could be mode of transportation in the distant future, it appears unlikely to occur within my lifetime. That's a shame.
I spoke this summer with a veteran Union Pacific railroad worker who told me that his employer would probably never allow an existing rail line between Eau Claire and Minneapolis-St. Paul to be used for a light rail network. When I told him that U.P. officials have stated that they are "open to discussing" the possible sale of one of the two existing rail routes, he said, "They are just being polite".
Now that the issue is more or less dead until further notice, one would have to assume that it's time that we collectively spent our time and energy wishing for other things that could be a future catalyst to the Chippewa Valley's economy . What that may be is anyone's guess, but it certainly doesn't look like it will involve any trains.
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