Madison may be in line for Amtrak services to St. Paul, Chicago and Milwaukee within three years, thanks to a bill passed through Congress last week authorizing a $3.4 billion grant to fund more rails across the country.

The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, a five-year, $13 billion bill, passed through Congress with bipartisan support, with a 74-24 vote in the Senate.

Of the $13 billion, the legislation authorized $2.5 billion a year for Amtrak, which is almost double the current federal funding they currently receive. Also, $1.9 billion went toward a matching-grant program that will encourage states to invest in rail expansion and repair.

President George W. Bush, a long-time Amtrak critic, is expected to sign the bill into law.

Also included in the $13 billion is $3.4 billion to create more rails across the country, including a high-speed rail that extends from Chicago to Milwaukee through Madison and into St. Paul.

This extension falls in line with the States for Passenger Rail Coalition’s plan for expanding train travel throughout Wisconsin. Chaired by Wisconsin Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi, the SPRC is an alliance of state departments of transportation that support passenger rail initiatives and help gain federal funding for said initiatives, according to its website.

One of its projects includes the extension of 110 mph extended passenger rail service from Milwaukee to Madison as part of the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative (MWRRI).

The MWRRI is a multi-agency effort that includes nine Midwest states and the Federal Railroad Administration. Its initiative, the Midwest Regional Rail System Plan (MWRRS), hopes to create a passenger rail to business and leisure travelers that provides shorter travel times, more trips and more connections between big cities and smaller communities.

Under the fully implemented MWRRS, there would be 10 daily round trips from Madison to Milwaukee, with three additional stops in between. There would also be six daily round trips from Madison to St. Paul, with six additional stops on the way including stops in La Crosse and Winona, according to its annual executive report.

The plan also includes an expansion of the already implemented feeder bus system, which offers bus trips between Amtrak stations and other major cities without stations. This is contracted through Greyhound, Inc.

Under the MWRRS, there would be a feeder bus system between Chicago and Madison with three additional stops in between, and another bus system between Madison and Eau Claire.

This expansion now seems feasible, as Amtrak reported Friday a record 28.7 million people ridership last year, with every route seeing an increase. Along with this increase in riders comes the 11 percent increase in trips, which created a record $1.7 billion ticket revenue.

“Amtrak has solidified its role as a leader in the nation’s transportation network and proven intercity passenger rail’s relevance in today’s world,” chief executive Alex Kummant said in a statement.

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