Maximizing ridership should be the top criteria for where to locate a high-speed train station in Madison.
Economic development, neighborhood concerns and sufficient parking and connections to buses and taxis are important.
But putting more butts in train seats is what will make or break the line.
And a lot of riders will eventually be traveling not to and from Madison but right past it. The main goal of the train line is to link Chicago with the Twin Cities.
So where should the Madison train station go? The state Department of Transportation is wisely studying the strengths and weaknesses of four possible stops:
• At the Dane County airport.
• At First Street and East Washington Avenue.
• At Monona Terrace.
• At the Kohl Center.
Ideally, Madison would have two stops: one Downtown and one at the airport. That's what Milwaukee will have. But the DOT has indicated it wants only one stop here, no doubt to hold down costs and to keep the train moving once the leg to the Twin Cities is established.
Remember, it's supposed to be a high-speed train.
Gov. Jim Doyle seemed adamant that Madison's station should be at the airport when he first announced an $810 million federal stimulus grant to make the line happen. He cited ample parking, access to other forms of transportation and quick passage on to other destinations.
Doyle now deserves credit for looking carefully before he leaps. The DOT appears to be gathering information with an open mind. Getting this train station in the right spot may well determine whether it succeeds.
And there's a lot to say for locating the station Downtown where passengers could step off the train and walk to the Capitol, State Street, campus and the Kohl Center. City officials should avoid playing politics, trying to move the station into one favored neighborhood or another.
Maximizing ridership along the entire rail line must be the biggest factor the DOT uses to determine where in Madison to yell: "All aboard!"