Madison’s Amtrak home hasn’t necessarily left the station

Barry Gore isn’t trying to be a fly in the ointment, but he is creating some buzz about the location of Madison’s new Amtrak Station. It’s probably not the kind of buzz that Mayor Dave Cieslewicz appreciates, but that’s not stopping a last-minute plea regarding the location of Madison’s new Amtrak Station.

Gore, an urban designer and planner by trade, would like the new Amtrak Station to be built at Burr Jones field, near First Street and East Washington Avenue, rather than the Mayor’s favored location at Dane County Regional Airport. It is the airport station, not Gore’s so-called Yahara Station, that is part of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s application for stimulus funds that would accommodate Madison to Milwaukee (and, eventually, Madison to the Twin Cities) high-speed rail service.

Gore’s plea, which has been taken up by the citizens rail group Dane Alliance for Rational Transportation (DART), may come too late in the game, but given the access, visibility, and redevelopment opportunities he sees with the Yahara Station, he’s not giving up on the idea. “This has the potential to be a major catalyst for infill redevelopment,” Gore notes.

One would think that would tug at the heartstrings of a mayor that is pursuing a new Central Library because of the nearby redevelopment possibilities, but at this time the airport station represents the path of least resistance. Unlike the Yahara Station, which would require the construction of an 800-foot tangent siding track, the airport option already has been vetted in an environmental impact assessment. But when it comes to the federal review, Gore believes the Yahara Station will better withstand scrutiny. He points out that Federal Railroad Administration guidelines call for locating high-seed rail stations in or near the local central business district, which he said is mandatory for metropolitan populations over 150,000.

The Mayor’s blog has raised the possibility of a downtown Amtrak station later on, but Gore believes it would be better to serve the city’s inner core by commuter rail, and let the high-speed service cruise up to Minneapolis without further delay.

His point is well taken because critics are ready to pounce on any suggestion that defeats the whole purpose of high-speed rail: to offer a mode of transportation that is at least time competitive with air travel, especially if you’re talking about a service that eventually could take people from Chicago to the Twin Cities via Madison.

Due to the Railroad Administration’s guidelines, there remains the possibility that the DOT’s application will be sent back to the drawing board, at which time Gore would have the right to say, “I told you so.”

“We’re going to continue to push this,” he promised.

For more information about local rail, visit: http://www.rationaltransportation.org

For more details, see Mayor Dave’s blog: http://www.cityofmadison.com/mayor/blog/index.cfm?Id=154