Passenger Rail Updates from JONAH Transit Task Force

*On August 21st, 2021 a public “Rally for Passenger Rail” event took place at Phoenix Park in Eau Claire. The event was initiated by the Chippewa Valley Transit Alliance to bring awareness to the community regarding the growing need for passenger rail in Eau Claire and the Chippewa Valley. Various elected officials attended and spoke to a crowd of 32 people about the importance of passenger rail and the economic benefits passenger rail would bring to Eau Claire and the surrounding communities of West Central Wisconsin and the entire region of West Central Wisconsin.

*There are plans by Amtrak to connect Eau Claire to Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago in a long-range 2035 vision plan for regional passenger rail. The State of Wisconsin and Minnesota Departments of Transportation envision six regional passenger trains a day between the Twin Cities, Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago. Three of those passenger train services would continue to operate on the existing Amtrak route along the Mississippi River from the Twin Cities to Red Wing, Winona and La Crosse and on over to Tomah, Portage, Columbus Milwaukee and Chicago. The other three passenger train services would operate thru Oakdale, MN, Hudson, Menomonie, Eau Claire, Black River Falls, Camp Douglas, Portage, Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago.

*The West Central WI Rail Coalition continues to pursue its objectives of establishing passenger rail service between Eau Claire and St. Paul Union Depot over the existing Union Pacific Railroad route. An engineering rail study began on the route to see what improvements will be needed before the passenger rail service can begin. The study began in July. The study is currently on temporary hold while some financial matters are resolved to complete the study. The study should continue to go forward. The Eau Claire to St. Paul service is not affiliated at this time with Amtrak. The service would be provided by a private third-party operator under contract operating arrangements with the Union Pacific Railroad.

*The newly formed Chippewa-St. Croix Rail Commission continues to meet regularly. The Rail Commission is represented by members of Eau Claire County, Dunn County and St. Croix County. The Cities of Eau Claire, Altoona, Menomonie, Baldwin, New Richmond and Hudson also serve on the Commission along with representatives from the West Central WI Rail Coalition and the West Central WI Regional Planning Commission. The Rail Commission will eventually take the lead role in pursing and implementing the future passenger rail service with the help of other parties involved both privately and publicly. The Rail Commission is in the process of finalizing its Bylaws. The Commission will meet in Menomonie this October.

*Jonah’s Transportation Task Force will continue to work with the Chippewa Valley Transit Alliance, the Wisconsin Transit Riders Alliance, the Coalition for More Responsible Transportation Group and other statewide public transportation advocacy organizations to ensure that the Eau Claire region is part of balanced statewide public transportation network system.

– by Mark Quam, Transit Chair