Oil train rail line will be improved
$3 million designated for safety on stretch of railway in county

By Ryan Billingham - Freeman Staff

Feb. 15, 2016

WAUKESHA — The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has received $3 million in grant money to improve safety on a 10-mile section of the Canadian Pacific Railway line — starting in Hartland and ending just past Pewaukee — used heavily by oil trains.

Wisconsin U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin announced Thursday WisDOT will receive the funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve rail safety and security in Waukesha County.

Mark Morrison, supervisor of railroad engineering and safety for WisDOT, said the federal government offered about $10 million nationwide last fall during an eight-week application window. The Wis-DOT project claimed nearly a third of the funding. The state of Wisconsin is providing $750,000 in matching funds.

The grant will pay for improvements along the corridor including crossing upgrades, medians and a more technologically up-to-date track monitoring system called “constant warning time circuitry” that makes gate crossings more efficient and safe.

The line sees heavy traffic. An average of 23 freight trains per day operate over it carrying ethanol and crude oil, including seven to ten carrying Bakken crude oil from North Dakota. It also carries two Amtrak passenger trains per day.

“It makes sense in so many ways,” said Morrison of the project’s location.

The improvements will build on work already done toward Oconomowoc and will allow communities to apply for “quiet zones” in their communities, which Morrison said he has been working to accomplish for years.

The line is designated a high-speed rail line that could in the future see 14 trains per day operating at 110 miles per hour.

In November 2015, two trains derailed and spilled chemicals in Wisconsin. One in Alma — near La Crosse — spilled about 20,000 gallons of ethanol into the Mississippi River.

A week later, 13 cars on a Canadian Pacific Railway train filled with crude oil derailed in Watertown. One car was punctured and spilled between 300 and 500 gallons of crude oil. An adjoining neighborhood was evacuated as a precaution. Just days later, five cars derailed 400 feet away.

Baldwin, D-Madison, visited Watertown at the time to emphasize the need for improvements in railroad safety.

“Protecting our communities along Wisconsin’s railways remains my top priority as we’ve seen an increase of this volatile oil being carried throughout the Badger State,” Baldwin said in a press release.

The project will begin in 2018, Morrison said.