Passenger rail service for area gets another vote of confidence

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Passenger rail service was once the way people traveled between Eau Claire and the Twin Cities – predominantly on the historic Twin Cities 400. But, by the 1960s, it came to a stop.

Now, the push is on to get it back on the rails.

Support for passenger rail service from Eau Claire to the Twin Cities received another vote of confidence Tuesday. The Chippewa County Board voted 11-3 in support of the West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition's plans for passenger rail service.

"We have already seen some development in other places in the country,” Scott Rogers with the West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition said to WEAU 13 News on Wednesday. “It would be an asset to our area for this to happen and we want to be ready when public-private partnerships as an innovative way to do that are encouraged."

The plan being pitched by the West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition calls for existing lines which service freight now, to also be used for passenger service between Eau Claire and St. Paul. But while support is strong for punching a ticket to the rails, not everyone is ready to get on board.

Chuck Hull was one of three Chippewa County Board members to vote against the resolution and says the population density isn't in place for this project.

"I have a lot of experience riding trains. I like him a lot. I live in Europe for a while and we take a lots of train journeys,” Hull said to WEAU 13 News on Wednesday. “They work when you have the population density. We have limited tax base. We have roads that are crumbling. If the private wants to get involved with it, that's perfectly great.

“Having the county come and support this and send things to Madison implies that you're looking for some public support. Maybe some tax money and things. I think it's at the moment this corridor, in our particular part of the country, does not have the population to do that."

To that, Rogers said this area is ready for the kind of service a passenger line to the Twin Cities would bring.

“Our initial indication is that this is similar to a lot of other corridors with the amount of travel that's going on in amount of commerce that takes place – particularly between the Chippewa Valley, the Saint Croix valley and the Twin Cities,” he said. “A service of perhaps four trains a day would be viable and would give people the convenience and the advantages that it could be successful.”

Rogers said the passenger rail plan could be in operation within the next five years. While Hull said he's not "anti-train", he hopes public funds aren't involved.

“The problem I see is, as a government entity, getting their support implies more than private. We have taxpayers that are interested in their interests. County-wide, people living out in the edges of the county in low populated areas, I don't think they see a benefit they get from it. So we have to think of about how their tax money would be involved as well.

"I wish them luck to get it done privately, but just without government money.”

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