If you’ve watched the news lately (and if you haven’t, it’s OK — sometimes we need a break, too), you know that President Biden wants to spend a metric assload of money to fix America’s infrastructure. Things like train tracks, roads, bridges, and formerly strong things seem to be falling down more and more often these days.
Naturally, there are people who are opposed to this. The reasons are many, and we won’t get into it because politics is generally beyond the scope of what we do here. Let’s just say there are some people who think it’s more than the nation can afford, and there are also some people who have a financial interest in the continued crumbling of America.
What we’re interested in right now is Amtrak, the country’s only nationwide passenger railroad. Because of reasons you learned all about in sixth-grade history class, most of the nation’s rail traffic goes through Chicago. That means when Amtrak burps, Union Station passes the Pepto.
So in the unlikely event that President Biden, who delights in being known as “Amtrak Joe,” gets all of the money he wants from Congress; and all of the money that is earmarked for Amtrak actually makes it to the railroad; and all of that money is actually spent wisely, here’s what it means for Chicago: More trains to more places.
Sure, a lot of those places aren’t exciting. Until Elon Musk is running Amtrak, you’re not going to Mars on the Hiawatha line. But a lot of people have a lot of family, friends, and business associates in a lot of places around the Middle West. That’s what passenger trains are good at: regional transportation. They’re also great for bringing in tourists, with lots of extra money they didn’t spend on flying that they can instead put into restaurants, Uber rides, and museum tickets.
Part of the plan to put some chug in our choo-choo is to increase the number of trains on tracks. For example, bump the Chicago to Milwaukee run to ten round-trips a day. This is important because Milwaukee becomes something of an outlying hub for Amtrak. Maybe because Union Station gets maxed out in this plan. Or it could be, as Crain’s Chicago Business repeatedly reports, because the rail lines in and around Chicago are so often clogged with freight traffic.
Another big component is new routes. Some of them look promising. It’s hard to believe that we can’t currently take a train from Chicago to Toronto. Also on offer is the possibility of a train trip up to see the Bears smack the Packers in Green Bay. And the ability to take a train down Columbus, Indiana. If you don’t know Columbus, after Chicago it’s best Midwest city for architecture.
Here’s a list of the new routes. All stops are listed. Terminals and important locations are in bold.
- Chicago → Milwaukee → Oconomowoc → Watertown → Madison
- Chicago → Milwaukee → Fond du Lac → Oshkosh → Appleton → Green Bay
- Chicago → Milwaukee → Oconomowoc → Watertown → Madison → Portage → Wisconsin Dells → Camp Douglas → Eau Claire → Menomonie → Hudson → Saint Paul → Minneapolis
- Chicago → LaGrange → Naperville → Plano → Mendota → Princeton → Geneseo → Moline → Davenport → Iowa City
- Chicago → Roselle → Elgin → Huntley → Belvedere → Rockford
- Chicago → Dyer → Rensselaer → Lafayette → IND → Indianapolis → Columbus → Jefferson → Louisville
- Chicago → Hammond → Michigan City → New Buffalo → Niles → Dowagiac → Kalamazoo → Battle Creek → Albion → Jackson → Ann Arbor → Dearborn → Detroit → Windsor → Chatham → Glencoe → London → Ingersoll → Woodstock → Brantford → Oakville → Toronto
For the Chicago → Toronto run, it’ll be interesting to see if you have to clear Customs and Immigration at Chicago Union Station, or at Toronto Union Station. When you take Amtrak between Seattle and Vancouver, you clear immigration at Pacific Central Station in Vancouver. But if you take a ferry, you do it in Seattle. Imagine Chicago Union Station with a fenced-off international arrivals platform. That might be cool, eh?