Our Views: Riding the rails of good news for Rock County

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Monday, September 16, 2013

When state incentives bolster a business serving other companies in Janesville and Milton, it's a victory for those communities.

When those grants and loans help reduce traffic snarls, as well, it's like a baseball team winning a doubleheader.

So it is with a package announced Friday to help the Wisconsin & Southern Railroad with two projects expected to start this fall and be completed by spring.

Motorists have complained for decades about long delays at the Five Points on the west side of Janesville's downtown. They wonder why a bridge couldn't be built to eliminate train traffic at that bottleneck.

Such a project likely would be cost prohibitive. These new state awards, however, will reduce delays at the Five Points.

The state's Freight Railroad Preservation Program granted $1.74 million to Wisconsin & Southern to build a 1.5-mile rail siding next to the track that runs between Milton Junction and Highway 14 in Janesville. The award will pay for up to 80 percent of the project. Also using a $218,040 state loan, the railroad will build the siding so it can link mile-long trains with fewer back-and-forth shifts that often block crossings in Janesville and Milton. It also will ease scheduling headaches because the railroad will be able to pull one train onto the siding while another passes.

Railroad spokesman Ken Lucht told The Gazette that the siding will “dramatically eliminate” trains idling in Janesville.

A second project has received a $2.29 million grant and $286,673 loan to reactivate a 10-mile line between Fitchburg and Oregon. That will allow Janesville-based Lycon to mine sand and gravel in Janesville and ship it to its new cement and ready-mix plant in Oregon. The village of Oregon and city of Fitchburg own that line, which hasn't operated since the 1990s. Oregon won't let Lycon run its new plant without rail service. The line will let Lycon supply cement to commercial projects in Dane County.

Reactivation of that line further boosts hopes for Rock County economic development. That's because Oregon and Fitchburg also own an extension of that line south from Oregon to Evansville. Once rail service restarts between Oregon and Madison, it should raise interest in reactivating the line to Evansville. That could create new markets for Landmark, a grain and soybean cooperative in Evansville.

“This is a major economic development step forward with implications for the entire region,” state Sen. Tim Cullen of Janesville said. “Access to rail lines is a critical consideration for many manufacturers looking to relocate or expand their business, and providing greater rail infrastructure will help make our area more competitive.”

Rock County residents should applaud the doubleheader victory. Reactivating the line to Evansville would extend this winning streak of economic development.

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