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No high-speed rail, so Amtrak continues to study more stops

Brad Williams

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High-speed rail is a dead issue for now in Minnesota and Wisconsin, but increasing Amtrak service is still a transportation priority.

The Minnesota Dept. of Transportation is moving ahead with a study on ways to add more daily stops of the Empire Builder train that serves La Crosse.

“THere are slow spots along the corridor that if we put some infrastructure investment in, will allow the trains to go through at faster speeds,” MnDOT passenger rail director Dan Krom said of parts of route through Wisconsin.

The Empire Builder makes two stops each day in La Crosse on its trips between Chicago and Seattle.

This month, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker opposed a plan in his state to develop a high-speed rail from the Twin Cities to Chicago. That caused Minnesota legislative leaders in St. Paul to bail on their plan, since Wisconsin wasn’t going through.

So, that puts the focus back on Amtrak to put money into improving and expanding its line, though a second daily run wouldn’t happen for another three or four years.

“Even with a second train, we’re looking at reducing the travel time and shorter dwell times at the stations,” Krom said. “Addressing some of these choke points along the corridor.”

A Seattle-La Crosse trip runs about 36 hours over two nights on Empire Builder.

Last fall, La Crosse hosted a MnDOT public meeting to show off these expansion plans, which includes coexistence with others using rail.

“What we’re really wrapping up is some operational modeling to see how the train fits in with the existing freight system,” Krom said.