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Five Midwest mayors urge federal officials to support Amtrak expansion

Five Midwest mayors urge federal officials to support Amtrak expansion

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An Amtrak train rolls into the La Crosse depot.

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Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and the mayors of Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Paul and Minneapolis urged federal officials to support extending Amtrak’s passenger rail line through the upper Midwest.  

Rhodes-Conway, along with Mayors Tom Barrett, Lori Lightfoot, Melvin Carter and Jacob Frey, wrote in a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and the Federal Railroad Administration that enhanced passenger rail service would “improve regional connections between our major urban centers” and reduce stress on the environment. 

“As mayors, we believe that now is the time for transformative investments in our nation’s infrastructure that will benefit our residents for generations to come,” the letter dated April 9 states. “Modernizing and enhancing passenger rail must play a key role in our national transportation system in the twenty-first century and beyond.”  

Their letter comes after Amtrak released a plan for 2035 that includes Madison as a part of up to 30 or more new routes tied to President Joe Biden’s recently announced $2 trillion infrastructure plan. 

Earlier this month, Rhodes-Conway said she’s optimistic about the plan, noting strong community support for a rail station. 

“It would be a real boost for the economy, really enhance connectivity and make it possible for people to get around and in a much better way,” Rhodes-Conway said. 

[Amtrak includes Madison in 2035 vision]

If Amtrak were to locate in Madison, Rhodes-Conway said it would be critical for the station to connect to the future Bus Rapid Transit line — a system that offers fewer stops and faster and more direct service — in the city. 

Also, she said the city would want to consider co-locating an Amtrak station with intercity bus lines.  

“I'm a fan of really bringing modes together and making those transfers seamless for folks,” Rhodes-Conway said. “I think that's what we would want to look at here in Madison.” 

With that in mind, the mayor said an “obvious place” for an Amtrak station would be at the former Oscar Mayer property on the city’s north side because there is a rail connection, it’s a planned BRT stop and it’s near the airport, which could be attractive for travelers. 

“There's a lot of advantages to putting it in a place that is actively looking for redevelopment, and I think Amtrak has a preference for places where people can get off the train and have amenities right there,” Rhodes-Conway said. “This feels like just yet another opportunity for really strong transit oriented development.”

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