Where to put the train station?

Bill Haight has, and always will, write from a business perspective – from running a business to thinking about relationships between vendors and customers. He also has flights of fancy – from airplane rides to taxi tour – the many ways he uses to better understand the fabric of his beloved Madison.

Judging from the turnout at last week’s Downtown Madison Inc. Transportation Committee, a hot question is where the depot for Madison’s high speed rail connection should be located.

People recognize that this will likely a major driver of development. Like the days when the iron horse first came to America’s great Wild West, people want to know how it will positively or negatively affect their real estate.

The meeting introduced two new potential sites: A development on Williamson Street at Blair and another at the old Milwaukee Road depot near the Kohl Center. The other two sites being considered are at the Dane County Regional Airport and the so-called Yahara Station at First Street and East Washington.

My only preference is that the site be the one that works best for users of rail. That will improve the odds that this new service will be a success.

The one thing seemed clear at the committee meeting was that market data is needed. How many riders are expected, where are they coming from and where are they going?

If they’re headed for the airport, that site would look good. If they’re headed for downtown or the campus, the newly suggested sites seem attractive.

There also seem to be some common misconceptions:

  • There’s plenty of parking at the airport. No, the thousand or so parking spaces eventually needed would have to be built, probably on a field located across the tracks from the existing airport parking structure.
  • Madison would be just a stop on the way to Minneapolis. This would not be true now and maybe never. Present funding doesn’t address any future service to the Twin Cities. Former Railroad Commissioner Rodney Kreunen says that funding is not likely to come in “your grandchildren’s lifetimes.” And when and if the service is complete — Chicago to the Twin Cites with true high speed service — Madison would likely be served with a link to Portage or Watertown. Any deviation into Madison would cut too much time off the trip to make it attractive to through passengers.

So let’s get some market data, select a site where it will conveniently serve the most potential riders, then build an attractive station with all the expected accompanying development.

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