6 rallies in Wisconsin for high speed rail [AKA intercity rail]

It’s a pretty amazing day. Six rallies in Wisconsin to support the Wisconsin passenger rail project that Scott Walker wants to reject. They are in Madison, Milwaukee, La Crosse, Watertown, Oshkosh, and Eau Claire and all at NOON. I’ll be going to Watertown, where there is/was a station for the planned route and Mayor Ron Krueger is speaking. More info is HERE on facebook or at the Sierra Club website.

Before I go – I’ll look at answering the anti-rail “choo choo” crowd’s jeers, I mean, “questions”.

Speed?: Illuminating radio personality Vicki McKenna said the service would go at “cow speed” in a recent tweet.  Facts: The train will operate at 79 mph initially when installed in 2013. By December 2015, speeds increase – 90‐110 mph between Milwaukee‐Watertown and 110 mph between Watertown‐Madison.

True “high speed” is about 150 mph. In a national master plan, a high speed rail runs Chicago to Minneapolis in the future –  building off of this line.

Too expensive to maintain? Scott Walker, Governor as of January 3rd, 2011, says that the train will be a wasteful “boondoggle” and too expensive to maintain.

I turn to James Rowen’s blog “The Political Environment” and a piece called “Did WISDOT analyse the costs and benefits of the Madison-Milwaukee Rail Line – and its termination?” He reminds us that 100% of the construction – or $810 million – comes from the federal stimulus plan. And, 90% of the yearly maintenance is covered by the federal gov’t as well. Leaving us with $750,000 to cover. This figure, I recall, is 0.03% of our yearly DOT budget.

On paying for that $750,000- Rowen says, it’s covered. And I agree: “The train was to produce more than 4,700 construction jobs through 2013 and create at least 55 full-time operator and other jobs just in this Wisconsin piece of a Midwestern network,  – – so my question is, did the state figure out what the projected state income tax payments would be on worker and contractor salaries, for example, and also the projected sales taxes on materials purchased for the line’s construction?”

If we build it, will they come?: You’ll see this comment from critics-“Nobody will ride the train” There’s statistical analysis done by DOT using the same models they use for any traffic that show 300,000 people will ride the train per year Milwaukee to Madison, and of course more when it goes to Minneapolis[Note-A commenter left a note that explains why 300,000 is a very conservative number]. But I know a lot of people can’t trust stats. Robbie Webber does a nice write up on that in her rail myth-busting piece. Just an excerpt:

I think the naysayers would be very surprised how many people commute between Madison and Milwaukee every day for work. Or somewhere in between like Watertown or Delafield. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve spoken to who either do this commute themselves, or work with someone that does the commute. Why do these people live so far away? Some are part of a couple where one person works in Milwaukee, and the other in Madison. Some changed jobs and don’t want to uproot the family. Some love living in the country, and a long commute is the price they pay. Some are at temporary positions and see no reason to move for a job that may be over in a year or so….The three things that will convince people to not drive (for certain trips) are: time, money, and a pleasant experience. For some people one of these is more important than others. Some people will do anything to save a few bucks, even if it means getting there slower or in a less convenient way. For other people, they don’t care how much it costs, as long as it is fast. Still others just hate fighting traffic, and will do almost anything to not have to drive at certain times or to certain places. .. Being able to get an hour’s work done instead of being stressed out is a big incentive for many people.

Can you turn that $ into road $? Scott Walker ran on the campaign promise that he would first kill the train, and 2nd, turn that $ into money for “crumbling roads and bridges”. In this DOT financial planning document, you will see read that the money is for intercity passenger rail only. Also, if deadlines are missed, the money goes to other eligible projects in a similar class. Ignoring this, Walker persisted, and DOT Secretary Ray LaHood reasserted that the money is for high speed rail. And other states wait in line for it eagerly. Governors in the states of California, New York, Illinois, Florida, and North Carolina have all communicated some or a lot of willingness to take that $810 million off of Wisconsin’s hands.

Lastly, a myth-buster article I have shared widely is Opponents spew myths about high-speed rail by Mike Schafer from BizTimes.com.

2 thoughts on “6 rallies in Wisconsin for high speed rail [AKA intercity rail]

  1. I would like to provide some clarity on ridership forecasts for the extension of Hiawatha service to Madison. According to Wisconsin’s ARRA application for the $810 million project grant, the incremental increase in ridership due to the service extension is forecast to be 338,000 in 2013, the first year of service. This is not just passengers who would be riding between Milwaukee and Madison, but also includes those who would be riding to and from Madison and Watertown, and Chicago and Mitchell Airport. A good chunk of new passengers, if not most of them, on the extended Hiawatha service would be traveling to and from Chicago. Amtrak (with consultant AECOM) provided this forecast in mid-2009 for the application. It should be noted that Amtrak forecasts for new service routes tend to be very conservative (often 20% below actual ridership), and thus are judged to be highly reliable. This was the experience of route forecasts for new service in North Carolina and Virginia.

    The state has sponsored other forecasts that estimate even higher ridership for the Hiawatha route extension to Madison; its recent update of a 2008 forecast undertaken by HNTB and TEMS estimated ridership for new Hiawatha station stops in the 400,000 to 500,000 range once 110 mph service starts in 2015. These forecasts depend on lots of variables, to include service speed and travel time, reliability, the prices and travel times of other travel modes (including cost of gasoline), local demographics and income, parking, etc.

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