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Cost of proposed high-speed rail system up in state

(The Associated Press circulated the following story on December 29.)

MILWAUKEE — The projected cost of a proposed Midwest network of high-speed trains has increased to about $1.2 billion in Wisconsin, a new report shows.

The Midwest Regional Rail Initiative that would create a network of fast, frequent trains would link Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay and other cities to Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Other routes would link Chicago to St. Louis, Detroit, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Omaha and Des Moines.

When cost estimates were first released in 1998, the system was projected to cost $849 million in Wisconsin.

The new report said the projected overall cost has increased from $3.47 billion to $7.7 billion.

Randy Wade, passenger rail implementation manager for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, said part of the increase reflects a decision to seek faster and more frequent service on some routes, including the Milwaukee-to-Green Bay route not currently served by Amtrak.

Planners originally sought four round trips daily at 79 mph, with stops in Neenah, Appleton, Oshkosh, Fond du Lac and either Allenton or West Bend. But the revised plan seeks seven round trips daily at 110 mph.

Since the Milwaukee-to-Green Bay leg would be a continuation of an existing Chicago-to-Milwaukee route, service between Milwaukee and Chicago also would rise from the planned 14 round trips daily to 17.

Amtrak’s Hiawatha line now has seven round trips a day at 79 mph, with stops in Sturtevant and Glenview, Ill.

Ten of the 17 trains on the Chicago-to-Milwaukee route would continue to Madison, another destination not currently served by Amtrak. Some of those trains would stop in Brookfield, Oconomowoc and Watertown.

Of the 10 Milwaukee-to-Madison trains, six would continue to the Twin Cities. That service would replace Amtrak’s once-a-day Empire Builder, which now links Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis-St. Paul and the Pacific Northwest on a route that bypasses Madison.

Planners also have revised cost estimates based on more detailed engineering work, Wade said, taking into account the need to share the tracks with freight trains.

Congress has thus far declined to authorize major spending on high-speed rail while Amtrak’s future is debated.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

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