NBC 26 — Travel by train could become a new option for people in Northeast Wisconsin for a trip to Chicago, or beyond.
Amtrak's vision is for trains that currently run from Chicago to Milwaukee, to keep going north - making stops in Fond du Lac, Oshkosh, and Appleton, before making a final stop in Green Bay.
"For the first time in a long time, we're in a place where additional Amtrak service can be developed," said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.
This is an NBC 26 360 report, as there are more than just two sides and we have identified multiple angles surrounding this issue.
Visiting Appleton From Chicago
Amanda Crowley grew up in Appleton and lives in Chicago.
She has several options to make a trip back to the Fox Valley, where her parents live.
"Sometimes I drive, but when I don't want to drive... I have taken the Amtrak to the Thruway Bus that meets up with the Amtrak [train]," Crowley said.
If the proposed Amtrak train expansion to the Fox Valley occurs, Crowley could reach Appleton by staying on the train from Chicago.
"Yes, I would take it all the time," Crowley said about the possibility of riding the train for the entire trip.
Federal funding available, but other money also needed
Billions of dollars are available from the federal infrastructure law passed in 2021 for projects including new rail service.
Federal money would pay for up to 80 percent of a project.
The rest would need to come from somewhere else - like state, local, or private money. In some cases, the money could also come from Amtrak itself.
The mayors of Green Bay, Appleton, Oshkosh, and the Fond du Lac city manager hope to join a federal program that would start the planning process for the route. They will find out if the route is chosen in the second half of this year, according to a Federal Railroad Administration representative.
It is unclear what kind of state funding might be needed to run a train to Green Bay. A Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) representative said a study could help come up with an estimate.
Last year, Wisconsin state funding for the Milwaukee to Chicago Amtrak train was $3 million, according to WisDOT.
An open question is whether Republicans who control the state legislature would support any state money for a train to Green Bay.
NBC 26 called Assembly Speaker Robin Vos' office about the potential train service to Green Bay, but did not hear back.
State Senator Eric Wimberger (R - Green Bay) represents downtown Green Bay.
NBC 26 asked if he would support using state money for the service.
"I guess I don't know, that's the short answer," Wimberger said.
"I'd have to look at the outlays as to whether that's something the community would support - it it's profitable..." Wimberger said.
History of train service to Green Bay
New train service to Green Bay would actually be a return to something old.
A downtown sign designating an old depot along the Fox River states that in the early 1900s, about ten passenger trains a day came through downtown Green Bay.
Magliari, the Amtrak spokesman, said passenger train service to Green Bay ended in 1971.
GB Train Shop on Green Bay's west side is all about trains.
Owner John Melendy said there is only one time he remembers his father playing with a toy - a train set Melendy's grandfather had set up around a Christmas tree.
Trains were "...kind of addictive after that, and it's been a hobby since then," Melendy said.
But then NBC 26 asked Melendy about the potential Amtrak train service to Green Bay.
"Trains for passengers as they are today, are more of a novelty than a necessity," Melendy said.
He said that if a commuter train on a reliable schedule could connect areas like Green Bay, Appleton, and Oshkosh, some of the traffic congestion on I-41 could be reduced.
Even though Melendy would like to see the potential Green Bay route happen, he said, "[A] simple connection to Milwaukee, just to take some of the Amtrak trains, I don't believe is going to be successful because there just aren't that many people going."
While Melendy wants to see the service begin, Green Bay resident Elliot Christenson does not.
"...I'm not a fan of the Amtrak expansion, only because of our federal debt... [Amtrak gets] federal money," Christenson said.
Timing and Trips
If Amtrak train service begins from Green Bay to Chicago, the trip would take 4 hours and 20 minutes, according to Amtrak.
An NBC 26 reporter's recent trip to Chicago by car took approximately 3 hours and 5 minutes.
Train service as another travel option could have a positive impact on tourism in Green Bay, said Nick Meisner, vice president of marketing and communications at Discover Green Bay.
"We would welcome any mode of transportation to get [people] to Green Bay and to visit and to extend their stay here," Meisner said.
Back in Chicago, Erik Dortch said he would like to be one of those visitors to Green Bay.
"For going for Green Bay [Packers] games, it would be amazing to do that," said Dortch, who is from Wisconsin.
"Trying to go for a game now is a logistical nightmare, so having an Amtrak [train] there would be perfect," Dortch said.
NBC 26 spoke with Dortch at Will's Northwoods Inn, a Packers bar near downtown Chicago.
"The original owner actually was born and raised in La Crosse," said Mitchell Coston, a bartender.
Dortch said that he has not been to a Packers game at Lambeau Field in about three years, but said he'd "...at least make one-to-two games a season" if the train ran to Green Bay.
But Dortch should not expect to see the potential service for the 2023 season.
If the idea were approved tomorrow, the timeline for a passenger train rolling into Green Bay is unclear, but is measured in years, said Magliari, the Amtrak spokesman.