Commuter rail looking better and better
Plain Talk - Dave Zweifel - The Capital Times - August 25,1997
The success of new commuter service from the Wisconsin state line just south of Kenosha is yet more proof that people will give up their cars for a handy rail service.
About a year ago, the Chicago-based Metra system extended service to Antioch Ill., with stops along the way in Libertyville, Mundelein, Prairie View, Wheeling and other places all the way to downtown Chicago.
Metra officials had expected about 3,000 riders per day within a year, but that may were boarding the train by spring and the figure is now closer to 4,000 passengers.
The line, which uses tracks owned by Wisconsin Central
Railroad, has become so popular so quickly that Metra officials are trying to raise
funds to add another track to the Wisconsin border.
Obviously, traffic conditions and the population base in Dane County aren't comparable to those in the suburbs north of Chicago -- yet.
But the situation there does show that as traffic becomes heavier, the time spent commuting becomes longer and the competition for parking spaces becomes keener, people will actually leave their cars at home and take the convenient train ride instead.
Here, we are already starting to experience backups on the still new six-lane South Beltline and it hasn't been unusual to find traffic slowed to a stop on the four-lane West Beltline between 4:30 and 5:50 in the afternoon.
Instead of spending tens of millions of dollars to build yet wider beltlines that will only fill up to a slow crawl a few years down the line, now is the time to seriously consider the alternatives.
For the cost of what it took to build the U.S. 18-151 bypass around Verona, we could upgrade the tracks and buy the trains to begin commuter rail service from Middleton through downtown and out to near East Towne.
In a few years, service could be extended as far west as Mazomanie.
The possibilities are even greater going east. There's upgradable trackage all the way to Watertown, where a link could be established with Wisconsin's Amtrak service.
Admittedly, with the advent of the nation's interstate road system, the past four decades were not exactly conducive to passenger rail. We've reached a stage now, however,where the worm has turned.
As our population grows and our streets and highways become gridlocked, more and more people are looking to rail -- especially for relatively short distances between work and home, between downtown and the suburbs, between cities within geographic regions, like Milwaukee-Madison, Madison-Milwaukee-Green Bay or Madison-Chicago.
It's time to get on track.
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Revised: March 01, 2001.