One of the thriving Amtrak lines serves us right here, and it’s a gem.
Amtrak’s Hiawatha line provides regular service throughout the day between Chicago and Milwaukee, and serves about 3,000 riders per week. Many times it’s packed at rush hour going north.
The historic station in Sturtevant is convenient for Kenosha County residents, and the Hiawatha offers a comfortable ride to downtown Chicago going south of Mitchell International Airport and downtown Milwaukee going north.
Can it stay viable, however, as other lines lose funding? That just happened in Indiana, where the Hoosier State passenger line between Indianapolis and Chicago discontinued service after the Indiana legislature eliminated funding for it in its new budget.
The Indianapolis to Chicago route was on its last legs, not frequent or convenient to passengers. But now that Amtrak offering is gone.
By contrast, Wisconsin lawmakers see the value in the Hiawatha, and they have agreed to increase funding to expand the service.
Gov. Tony Evers called for a boost in his 2019-21 biennial budget proposal, and legislators have approved $35 million for expanding the Hiawatha service. The new budget provides the increase, and it’s up to Evers to approve it when he acts on the spending plan.
It’s a great compromise by Republicans and Democrats in an area — transportation — where there still isn’t agreement on sustainable funding moving forward.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation said the Hiawatha funding increase would go toward adding three more round trips a day, bringing the number of Chicago to Milwaukee trips to 10.
Terry Brown, group spokesperson for the Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers (WisARP), had told NPR that it’s cheaper to add more trains to the Hiawatha than it is to attach additional cars to existing trains. Those cars, Brown said, would be empty but still heavy at off times.
“There are certain rush hour trains going north from Chicago to Milwaukee that are over-filled,” Brown told NPR. “They are beyond capacity. There are many people standing for the entire trip from Chicago’s Union Station to at least the Milwaukee airport.”
The Hiawatha touts its 89-minute, air-conditioned and WI-FI enabled Chicago to Milwaukee rides. These days it’s promoting a great way to get to Summerfest.
Extra trains will be applauded by regular passengers and new riders who try the service. The governor should make sure the funding boost stays in the budget.