By Larry Sandler of the Journal Sentinel
A planned high-speed rail route from Chicago and Milwaukee to Minnesota might not be dead, but its prospects are uncertain after Wisconsin Governor-elect Scott Walker’s vow to block the route’s Milwaukee-to-Madison leg.
In theory, the longer line still could be built along the existing route of Amtrak’s long-distance Empire Builder, along a new route leading through Fond du Lac and Stevens Point or even along a route that leads through northern Illinois and Iowa to bypass Wisconsin altogether. But all of those options face their own obstacles, and rail advocates don’t hold out much hope for any of them.
At a minimum, Walker’s position would dismantle the vision of Midwestern leaders for 110-mph trains linking Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and Minneapolis-St. Paul. The Chicago-to-Twin Cities route was planned as a backbone of the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, a nine-state effort to create a network of fast, frequent trains.
Two other key routes, from Chicago to St. Louis and Chicago to Detroit, would be upgrades of existing Amtrak service, as would an increase to a 110-mph top speed on Amtrak’s existing service between Chicago and Milwaukee. But no passenger trains now serve Wisconsin’s capital, and then-Gov. Tommy Thompson and others pushed for starting with a 110-mph extension to Madison to provide a dramatic example of the impact of new high-speed rail service.