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Proposed passenger rail service could have Rock County stops

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Neil Johnson
June 11, 2014

JANESVILLE—A statewide transportation advocacy group is rolling out a plan for passenger rail service between Madison and Chicago it says could include stops in Janesville.

All Aboard Wisconsin hasn't gone public with specific details of its plan, but says it wants to gauge the interest of local officials and stakeholders on potential stops in Rock County.

The group's plan uses existing freight lines to connect a passenger route from Chicago to Madison, All Aboard Wisconsin lobbyist Gary Goyke said Wednesday.

Goyke's group, an advocacy and lobbying arm of rail enthusiasts and transportation business groups formed in 2013, has invited local officials and business stakeholders on a ongoing information junket of sorts. The group began circulating media releases on its plan Wednesday.

One railroad company official said the group's plan caught him off guard, and Janesville officials said they were still digesting the information Wednesday.

On June 21, All Aboard Wisconsin has scheduled meetings on a chartered passenger train excursion that will make stops on a Wisconsin & Southern Railroad line in Rock County on its way from Chicago to Madison, and then to Prairie du Chien.

“The purpose of this is to connect with local businesses and local elected officials. We want to learn whether we're dead in the water or whether this is worthwhile to pursue,” Goyke said.

All Aboard Wisconsin might have a partial answer when it comes to passenger rail stops in Rock County.

Ken Lucht, director of government relations for Wisconsin & Southern Railroad told The Gazette on Wednesday that his company has “no immediate interest” to co-op lines it operates for a passenger rail system between Chicago and Madison.

He said Southern & Wisconsin doesn't have an affiliation with All Aboard Wisconsin and the railroad company has had “no discussions” with the state over the group's plans.

“It was the first I've heard of it. Absolutely,” Lucht said.

In fact, Lucht said, the train ride on which All Aboard Wisconsin plans to pitch its plan was originally chartered as a “private charter excursion” to thank groups that have partnered with Wisconsin & Southern on recent projects.

“I can tell you the purpose of that trip is not to discuss passenger rail between Chicago and Madison,” Lucht said.

Under law, a passenger rail service would need approval by both the state and rail companies that operate lines the service would use.

Wisconsin & Southern operates about 600 miles of rail in southern Wisconsin, including a line that crosses Rock County, running to Madison through Janesville, Milton and Edgerton. The lines, which the state has upgraded in the last few years, link with rails in Illinois that tie to Chigago's Metra passenger rail system and Amtrak lines, officials said.

That would make Wisconsin & Southern a linchpin for any cooperative rail plan.

Goyke said he couldn't speak for private rail companies, and he didn't have specifics on what routes or what lines the passenger service could take. The group says the plan would not require federal or state funding.

“There isn't a plan that I could fax to you or send to you that would show you it would going down this street or that road,” he said.

He said some officials in Rock County like the idea of a passenger rail line.

“Let's just say the interest in Janesville is high,” Goyke said. “It's 90 miles from Chicago. That's the position there. I think they just see potential.”

Janesville Transit Director Dave Mumma, who is a member of the group and is familiar with the situation, said All Aboard Wisconsin's plan is in “very, very early” stages.

“Based on what I've heard, and it isn't a lot, this is very exploratory at this point. They're looking at the feasibility. Is it even operationally feasible? What's the market?” he said.

Other passenger rail services in the past that have run through Janesville have fizzled in the past, because of a lack of demand, he said.

“Obviously, if you're running a transportation system, you've got to figure out, can you do this on a schedule reliably. And then repeat.”

Goyke, a former Wisconsin state Senator, was convicted in 1990, after pleading no contest to four felony counts of illegal campaign contributions for reimbursing employees of his lobbying firm who made political donations in their names, according to records, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.



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