A Train for Eau Claire

Eau Claire, Wisconsin–whose urban area barely has more than 100,000 people–is located on Interstate 94. United Airlines offers residents two daily flights to Chicago. Greyhound has buses to Chicago and Minneapolis, while Jefferson Lines has buses to Green Bay and Minneapolis.

But that’s not enough for members of the West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition, who want train service from Eau Claire to Minneapolis and Chicago. Why? Because millennials don’t want to drive; everybody wants to take the train; only cities with trains will grow in the future; blah, blah, blah.

People who believe this line of drivel probably don’t want to know the real data. In FY 2015, Amtrak carried 6.60 billion passenger miles, down from 6.65 billion in 2014. Meanwhile, in the 12 months ending in November, 2015, Americans drove 3.14 trillion vehicle miles, up 3.6 percent from the previous 12 months.

It’s bad enough that Amtrak is wasting more than a billion dollars per year carrying insignificant numbers of people on trains like the Chicago-Grand Rapids Pere Marquette, the San Jose-Sacramento Capitols, and the Oklahoma City-Ft. Worth Heartland Flyer, to name a few of the biggest money-losers. We simply can’t afford to run heavily subsidized passenger trains to every little city and town in America in order to sooth the egos of the rail nuts in those cities. Anyone who doesn’t want to drive is welcome to take the bus, which gets even less subsidies than United’s planes to Eau Claire.


4 thoughts on “A Train for Eau Claire

  1. JOHN1000

    A train for every town. Trains/streetcars/rail are obviously the “in” thing these days, among the municipal spending crowd.

    Readers of this site should remember that not too long ago, as one wag put it in 2006:
    “It seems like every city, town, village or hamlet in the country is planning a “convention center.” If your hometown is big enough to have a McDonalds and a Wal-Mart, I guarantee someone on your city council is planning a convention facility to “put this town on the map.”
    And how many of these convention centers ever paid back their costs, let alone ran a profit?

    Maybe the slogan should be: “Ride our train to our convention center.”

  2. prk166

    The Union Pacific tracks on this route are not in good condition for passenger trains. A large investment would need to be made to enable 79 MPH. This is a secondary / back-up route for UP for traffic to / from the Twin Cities.

    While the proponents have some fair points, like the value of someone with skin in the game running train – someone with incentive to develop ridership rather than cull political favor for political $. They should be ashamed to be resorting the to age old rhetorical diarrhea invoking “brain drain”. It makes no more sense for Eau Claire to be obsessed with keeping it’s best and brightest in town than for the Beloit Snappers to want to do the same, denying players a chance to advance in the minors and even make in Major League Baseball ( MLB ).

    The claims about millennials are as equally specious and short sided. Even if they don’t want to drive, it’s not a compelling reason for the public to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into passenger rail because a small portion of population neither wants to drive nor take existing public transit ( bus, van ). More worrying is the idea that somehow what some 22 year old wants today will be the same when they’re 52. We know that’s not true yet the pay off for a capital intensive project like this, if it is ever to pay off, wouldn’t happen for a couple generations.

    Other points like the number of cars crossing on the I94 bridge betray the utter lack of a case they have for this project. The I94 bridge over the St. Croix sees less traffic than they claim and that’s the weekday figures. Once the new St. Croix Crossing bridge to it’s north – in itself an example of bloated federal spending – upward pressure on the daily use will drop.

    Other than the bridge crossing itself and the 6-lane portion of I-94 through Hudson, most of I-94 in Wisconsin sees far lower usage figures. If they’re expecting to get a few percent on travelers on the route, it would closer resemble 4% of 35,000 / weekday than 4% of 85,000.

    At the end of the day this group is another classic “us too” group. This rail line is part of a desperate bid to get hooked up with rail service to Chicago despite the current Empire Builder being the most reasonable and rational route If Sinclair Lewis were alive today, surely he’d write a novel satirizing this sort of civic chest beating meets love affair with outmoded technology.

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