A new railroad you’ve probably never heard of is 20 years in the making. This is how it could change the way Wisconsinites get around.
Traveling to and through the Midwest is no easy feat. Unless you have a car that gets good gas mileage, extra cash for a plane ticket, or aren’t in a hurry–good luck.
Enter: The Midwest Regional Railroad Initiative (MWRRI). Since 1996, nine midwestern states–Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and Wisconsin–have been working alongside the Federal Railroad Administration on the project.
Once complete, more than 3,000 miles of high-speed railroads will connect the Midwest from Ohio to Nebraska and every state in between. It will be one of the first high-speed passenger train systems in the nation.
What’s Taking So Long?
There are still several questions about the MWRRI that haven’t been answered yet. One of the biggest is funding.
The MWRRI will use thousands of miles of pre-existing rails to introduce a more efficient alternative: high-speed trains. Places like Japan, China, and Europe have already had them for decades, but the US has famously lagged behind on its passenger rail program.
Upgrading existing tracks to accommodate such fast-moving trains will cost a substantial amount of money. An initial executive report on the proposal estimated $7.7 billion in capital costs. The nine MWRRI states provide annual funding to the project, but preliminary reports pushed for additional federal funds.
President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law expanded these limited funding opportunities for passenger rail systems like the MWRRI. Current projects approved for a portion of these funds include the Chicago Union Station Concourse Improvement Project, but the MWRRI could be eligible for financial assistance through this program.
There is no set date of completion for the railroad initiative, but here’s how far along the project is right now.
Why Should You Care?
Aside from walking or biking, taking the train is the most environmentally friendly way to travel. Compared to cars and planes, trains emit between 66 and 75% less carbon (part of what causes global warming.) In terms of energy consumption, use of space, and noise levels, trains are far more sustainable, too.
Although Amtrak already operates a number of both long and short-distance passenger trains across the US, including several around the Midwest, good luck finding an easy, direct train from one state to another!
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) announced in May it’s extending its Amtrak rail line up to Green Bay and installing passenger rail services to Madison, Waukesha County, and Watertown. The proposal aims to have these services ready by 2050, thanks to funds from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill. WisDOT estimates that the new rail lines could attract 1.6 million passengers.
Chicago is in the process of reinventing its passenger rail systems too. Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth recently announced Amtrak’s $873 million federal grant application for the Chicago Hub Improvement Project (CHIP). The project would completely renovate the city’s rail lines to make them faster and more efficient.
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