The popular Amtrak train Hiawatha, which runs between Milwaukee and Chicago, is slated for an increase in the frequency of service, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT).
The agency has budget authority of $35 million, which qualifies it to apply for grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation. If the WisDOT receives the grants, it will have much of the funding needed for infrastructure projects required to support an increase in service frequency from seven round trips per day to 10 per day. The service expansion will require $195 million, and the state has already received two grants to begin work on the project.
State and local leaders have praised the effort to move forward with the expansion. “We know that rail transportation is important to our state economy as well as our workforce,” said Craig Thompson, Secretary Designee of WisDOT. “This is a critically important part of Milwaukee’s economy,” according to Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association for Commerce. Secretary-designee of Wisconsin’s Department of Administration, Joel Brennan, said that more than 40 percent of trips aboard the Hiawatha are work-related, with more than 1.3 million Wisconsinites living along the line.
History shows that increasing the frequency of service should increase ridership. For example, ridership has more than doubled since 2003, when the state began running seven daily round trips. Moreover, ridership has increased annually during the last three years. The service registered a ridership increase of 3.6 percent in 2018 and an increase of 5.6 percent during the first six months of 2019.