Railroad tracks getting $17 million upgrade

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Saturday, January 21, 2012
— The train wreck of 2007 was terrifying for neighbors and expensive for the railroad.

But bad memories fade with time. A new set of tracks helps, too.

The Wisconsin & Southern Railroad announced Thursday that it soon will complete an upgrade of tracks that link Milton, Edgerton and Madison, thanks in large part to a grant from the state.

Ninety percent of the $17 million project is complete, and trains between Madison and Milton already are running at 49 mph on most of the track instead of the 10 mph to 25 mph typical after the derailment, WSOR spokesman Ken Lucht said.

The result is faster service for customers and less waiting at railroad crossings for motorists, according to a news release.

Dave Markson, whose property abuts the rail line near the accident site, said it appears the upgrade has made the line safer.

Markson complained at the time about the out-of-date tracks.

“We were very lucky that there were no tanker cars with dangerous chemicals,” he said Friday.

“So far so good. I hope we never see another derailment,” Markson added.

The derailment knocked 14 cars off the track and cost the company $1.2 million, according to Gazette files. A smaller derailment occurred that April.

Lucht said the new rail, which is rated to handle the much heavier loads of modern rail cars and locomotives, replaces tracks that were about 90 years old.

Bridges of approximately the same age on the 33-mile line still need to be brought up to modern standards. The bridge work will take place after the spring thaw, Lucht said.

In the meantime, trains still slow for the bridges.

The bidding process for the bridges is under way, Lucht said. The work will include strengthening or replacing of piers and abutments, and some decks will be replaced.

Warning signals at crossings have been adjusted to give motorists an earlier warning for the faster trains, Lucht said.

The project included installation of 30,000 new ties, upgrading of 21 public railroad crossings and installing 32 miles of continuous welded rail, according to a news release.

The new rail was tested Jan. 10, and no defects were found, WSOR reports.

Paying for the upgrade is a state Department of Transportation grant covering 80 percent of project costs. Another 18 percent comes from Wisconsin & Southern. The remaining 2 percent is from the Wisconsin River Rail Transit Commission, which is a consortium of eight counties.

The state and the commission own the Milton-to-Madison railroad corridor. WSOR is responsible for ongoing track maintenance, Lucht said.

The WSOR operates 700 miles of state-owned track in south-central Wisconsin as well as track in northeastern Illinois.

The rail line from Madison splits at Milton. One line goes east to Whitewater and on to Waukesha. The other goes south to Janesville.

The Milton-Janesville stretch already is rated for 49 mph, Lucht said, although trains must slow in the city.

The Milton-Waukesha line is about 90 years old and is scheduled for an upgrade, but that work won’t be done unless the state approves a grant.

The state makes $15 million available each year, and grants are very competitive, Lucht said.

If a grant is approved this year, the Milton-Waukesha line probably would be completed in 2014, Lucht said.

Last updated: 7:16 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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