Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions:

What is the purpose of this study?

The purpose of the Passenger Rail Study is to determine the City of Madison’s preferred location for a future intercity passenger rail station. A potential station location must be on existing rail lines, meet Amtrak operational requirements, be within close proximity to multi-modal transportation options, provide space for interfacing with intercity bus service, and provide short and long-term parking.

Will Amtrak be extended to Madison at the conclusion of the study?

While both Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) plans have identified Madison as underserved by passenger rail services, there is currently no commitment to bring passenger rail service to Madison. However, historic levels of Federal funding has been set aside for the establishment of new passenger rail service through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The bill established the Corridor Identification and Development (Corridor ID) Program, for this purpose. Identifying a station location now will make it easier to advance Amtrak’s recommended Hiawatha Extension – linking Madison to Milwaukee and Chicago - into the Corridor ID program. A Madison station could also serve the Twin Cities - Milwaukee - Chicago service, which is expected to begin operation in 2024 with an initial shuttle connection to/from Madison.

When will more detailed information be available about specific sites?

The initial public engagement meetings focused on presenting locations along the existing rail corridors that may be suitable for locating a passenger rail station. Many of these locations were selected due to being studied in previous planning efforts, while others were added or expanded due to land use changes in the time since previous study efforts concluded. We are currently reviewing public engagement feedback as well as high-level screening criteria to determine which stations will receive more detailed study. More detailed site-specific information will be available at our next public information meeting, which will be announced on our website.

Who decides where the station will be?

The City of Madison is taking the lead role in determining a recommended station location. The City will be working closely with several stakeholders to choose an appropriate site, including Amtrak, WisDOT, the railroads, and potentially affected property owners and stakeholders. Public input will be also be used to form a recommendation. The final selection will be recommended by the Transportation Commission and endorsed by the Common Council.

What factors are being considered to determine a location?

The project team is developing a list of factors including rail operations, site suitability for constructing a station, transportation access and multi-modal connectivity, site ownership/control, adjacent land uses, environmental impacts, and equity. These factors will be used as high-level screening criteria, and more detailed criteria under these broad categories will be used to rank specific sites that pass the screening criteria.

What exactly is required at a station?

The station will need an indoor space with a waiting area, ticketing, bathrooms, and staff quarters. It will also need a platform that is several hundred feet long to serve at least one track. In addition, Amtrak is anticipating that some trains may end in Madison, and they may need space and facilities to inspect and perform minor service on the trains. Long-term parking and space for inter-city buses and taxis will also be needed at or near the station.

How will people get to the station?

People will walk, bike, take the bus, drive, and be dropped off or picked up at the station. All of these modes require accommodations at a potential station location.

Can multiple stations be in Madison?

The City will only have one intercity passenger rail station providing a full-range of amenities. Most likely, one location will be identified and recommended as part of this study. However, it may be possible to add additional stations if there is a future need for them.

How is equity being considered?

The City will strive to make access to the station and rail service accessible to all Madison residents, including people with low incomes, people of color, and people who do not have access to cars. To that end, quality access using the transit network from all parts of the city are crucial. The project will also make sure that any negative impacts do not disproportionately affect low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Staff will host meetings in different neighborhoods to make it easier for people to engage with the project, and provide up-to-date project information on its website for those that are unable to make it to in-person meetings.

How can people find information, ask questions, submit feedback, and stay informed about future meetings?

The best way is to visit our website, submit feedback to, or join our project mailing list so you will be notified of future meetings.

Hiawatha Extension FAQs

What is the Hiawatha Service Extension?

The Hiawatha Service Extension is a proposed extension in Amtrak’s Connects Us plan of the existing Hiawatha Service that currently runs between Milwaukee and Chicago. The service currently runs as seven daily round-trips; however, this would be expanded to 10, with branches extending to Green Bay and Madison. Amtrak recommends extending three or four daily round trips between Milwaukee and Madison, with three trips extending between Milwaukee and Green Bay in future phases of expansion.

What route would the extension to Madison use?

The service would utilize existing freight rail tracks between Milwaukee and Madison for the service, with stops in Watertown and Oconomowoc, and possibly others. Targeted track improvements would be necessary to improve the safety, speed, and efficiency of operations along the corridor. These improvements would benefit future passenger service as well as existing freight rail that use the corridor.

How much will tickets cost?

This in unknown at this time, but for reference, an Amtrak ticket between Milwaukee and Chicago currently costs about $25.

How would the project be funded? What is the projected cost?

If the project were accepted into the FRA’s Corridor ID program, the FRA would provide $500,000 in 100% federal funding to kick off initial planning and environmental efforts. Funding beyond that would be 80% federal funding, 20% local funding. Local funding can come from a variety of sources including states and local municipalities.

Is this high-speed rail? How long will a typical trip take?

The route envisioned is not high-speed rail. Initially, the route is expected to operate at up to 79 miles per hour. It will run slower than that through Madison where there are frequent crossings and tight curves. While specific travel times are not yet available, it will take roughly 1.5 hours to get to Milwaukee, 3 hours to Chicago, and 5 hours to the Twin Cities. In the future, upgrades to tracks and crossings could allow higher train speeds of 90 or 110 mph.

Will train tracks be grade-separated?

No. Grade separation eliminates street crossings improving safety and allowing trains to travel faster. However, grade separation of tracks is very expensive and it is unlikely that any rail-street crossings will be grade separated with this project.

Will street crossings of the train tracks be closed?

The general intent of the City is to maintain as many crossings as possible because they provide for neighborhood connectivity.

While no crossings will be unnecessarily closed, the central Madison area has a very high number of rail-street crossings compared to similar urban areas. As a result, some crossings may be closed to facilitate station platforms or to maximize public safety while some crossings would be improved with warning lights or gates.

How will traffic be impacted?

The project will look at traffic impacts, but they are expected to be minimal with most station sites. A downtown station would not necessarily create worse traffic impacts than a north or east side station. Most additional street crossings in the isthmus, such as Baldwin Street, Ingersoll Street, and Paterson Street, carry very low traffic volumes and do not experience any traffic congestion. If a station location is chosen at the Monona Terrace, several trains per day would cross Blair Street, which does experience traffic congestion, and if a station location on the north side is chosen, then those trains would cross East Washington and/or Johnson Street. In any station location, the trains are expected to pass through quickly and crossings will only happen a few times per day. These crossings have substantially lower impacts than freight trains, which are longer and move slower through the crossings.

Why does Amtrak not currently serve Madison?

Amtrak’s long distance route through Wisconsin, the Empire Builder, runs on the Canadian Pacific Railway’s main line between Milwaukee and St Paul. This line goes through Columbus, WI instead of Madison.

How was Madison served by passenger rail in the past?

Madison was mainly served by two competing railroads through most of the 20th Century, the Milwaukee Road and the Chicago and North Western Railway. These companies provided service between Madison and Chicago, Milwaukee, the Twin Cities, and other destinations, but did not have a continuous route serving all four cities. In addition, the Illinois Central had a branch line that allowed passenger trains between Madison and Chicago. Two original train stations from this era remain; the Milwaukee Road station on West Washington Avenue, and the Chicago and North Western station on Blair Street, which have been adapted to other uses. Two additional stations existed very near these two stations, which have since been demolished. Passenger rail service in the US declined through the 1950s and 1960s, and Amtrak took over most passenger rail routes in 1971, but did not include a route through Madison since Madison was not on the main rail line between Milwaukee and the Twin Cities.

What about a connection to the Twin Cities?

The Twin Cities - Milwaukee - Chicago service, which is expected to be operational in 2024 with an initial shuttle connection to/from Madison could serve a future Madison station directly. 

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