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Wisconsin rail summit lobbies for high-speed line on Amtrak route

(The following story by Richard Mial appeared on the La Crosse Tribune website on March 19, 2010.)

LA CROSSE, Wisc. — One hundred high-speed rail advocates, several riding Amtrak from Minnesota, gathered Thursday in La Crosse to promote having the proposed Chicago-to-Twin Cities passenger train follow the river route used by Amtrak.

Billed as a rail "summit," the event at Train Station BBQ featured Wisconsin Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi and Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel as keynote speakers.

"I really feel that this route will come out on top," said Winona, Minn., Mayor Jerry Miller, who heads the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission of officials from communities on Amtrak's Empire Builder line.

"That route is the only shovel-ready route," Miller told the group.
But the two state officials were noncommittal about which of three options might be chosen:

• Amtrak's Empire Builder route through Tomah, La Crosse, Winona and Red Wing into St. Paul.

• Through Rochester to the Twin Cities. Rochester has never had a passenger rail connection to the Twin Cities.

• From Madison north to Eau Claire.

The two state transportation departments will recommend a choice to the Federal Rail Administration in late 2010 or early 2011, said Tom Faella, director of the La Crosse Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Wisconsin has received $8 million in federal stimulus to upgrade the Hiawatha route between Milwaukee and Chicago, and to begin planning an extension to the Twin Cities from Madison, which will have passenger rail service from Milwaukee.

If the Eau Claire route is selected, the train would follow an existing freight line from Camp Douglas and into Minnesota. But that would bypass all Minnesota communities south of the Twin Cities.

La Crosse County Administrator Steve O'Malley, a former Eau Claire County Board member, said it made more sense to serve Eau Claire with a spur line into the Twin Cities and leave the river route intact.

The La Crosse area-based Empire Builder High-Speed Rail Coalition helped spearhead Thursday's meeting.

Friday, March 19, 2010

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