Railroad chief makes the case for federal stimulus for freight rail, too

Monday, February 15, 2010

From an article by Jane Burns in the Wisconsin State Journal:

There's been much talk about passenger rail lately. But Bill Gardner is trying to get people to talk about freight rail, too.

The president and CEO of Wisconsin & Southern Railroad has spent the past year speaking to federal and state elected officials and community leaders about his plan to spur economic growth if federal stimulus dollars are earmarked for freight rail improvements.

Gardner proposes that with $90 million, three sections of state-owned track could be repaired. The sections, totaling some 91 miles, are between Madison and Whitewater; Brodhead and Avalon through Janesville in Rock County; and between Slinger and North Milwaukee.

"We heard (President Barack) Obama was ready to do some shovel-ready projects," Gardner said. "We can have this thing up and running in less than 90 days. We're ready to go to fix a state-owned property."

Wisconsin & Southern Railroad is a Class 2 regional railroad that operates 600 miles of track it leases from the state and another 100 miles of privately leased track. While the railroad is responsible for routine maintenance of the system, capital improvements such as track upgrades are a joint effort by the railroad, the state and 18 Wisconsin counties that are part of rail transit commissions.

Gardner says he has met with representatives of Gov. Jim Doyle, Sens. Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl, and Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan.

Ron Adams of the state Department of Transportation said he didn't think there is any money left from the federal stimulus package, as the state DOT earmarked the $529 million it was granted to local governments for road and bridge projects. In addition, the state was awarded $810 million in stimulus money for high-speed passenger rail.

"There's certainly talk of a subsequent bill that might have stimulus implications but we don't know what might be eligible," Adams said. "But Bill is certainly making the pitch that he's got work that can be done and started very quickly."