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Monday, July 27, 2009

Ready for rail: La Crosse, Eau Claire on collision course

From an article by Samantha Marcus in the La Crosse Tribune:

Recent changes to a plan for high-speed rail in Wisconsin has set up a potential tug-of-war between La Crosse and Eau Claire to be on the Chicago-Twin Cities route.

La Crosse officials and train enthusiasts considered it a foregone conclusion the much-desired span would route through La Crosse and into Minnesota.

But a final version of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Connections 2030 plan puts the choice of which west-central Wisconsin city back into play.

“We have worked for years ensuring La Crosse’s place on the high-speed rail route, but Eau Claire certainly has had their efforts as well,” said La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce President Dick Granchalek.

The essentially parallel routes are referred to in the plan as “project alternatives ... to be determined during environmental and engineering studies.”

The studies have been done, argued Bob Fisher, a member of the Wisconsin Association of Rail Passengers. There’s a time for studies and there’s a time for moving dirt with a shovel, he added.

“The truth is the Midwest has a plan that was done 15 years ago, went through a whole scenario of economic studies and determined the route that Amtrak was currently operating on, and still does, was the most feasible route,” Fisher said. “This is the route that should logically be chosen.”

La Crosse has the infrastructure, the rail culture, the potential passenger load that should give it the edge, he added.

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, whose district includes both La Crosse and Eau Claire, said it shouldn’t be an either-or proposition. Kind said the La Crosse route makes the most sense for the first connection and then the Chippewa Valley route could be brought in.

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