Friday, August 13, 1999
On the behalf of the Wisconsin Heritage
Rail Corp. we would like to thank the New Glarus Village Board for their
support to keep the Illinois Central rails in place. The board wisely
saw the need that the rails serve to keep Green County's #1 industry,
agriculture, strong. Your vision for the future of our grandchildren
is deeply appreciated.
Friday, August 6, 1999
In response to Any Kinast's letter chiding Dave Zweifel's column on rail removal in Green and Dane County, Kinast makes several statements which aren't correct and poorly informed. You say you lament sharply increased truck traffic and support alternative transportation then as expected you dive into the old argument of this rail line had been dead for some time before state officials made their decision to rip out the tracks. If it was dead why were six different operators interested in obtaining the line?
If you listen to the fertilizer shoveled by the DOT and South Central Rail Transit Commission then you're correct. The fact is the commission in harmony with the DOT killed the line a little at a time. And it was clear by action of the commission that they're also willing to sacrifice the Janesville-Monroe railroad line as well to get another un-needed trail.
You say you attended the April 23 meeting of the transit commission, "where the unanimous decision to pull the rails was made." You must have been sleeping because the vote clearly was not unanimous.
There was traffic on the line and when an independent study was done on traffic volume it showed significantly different results than the "official" survey done by the commission and DOT. The DNR figures on trail use are questionable at best and the DNR admits as much. The DNR person doing the use survey readily admitted that the bulk of the users would be commuters in Madison. That would hardly help tourism in Green County. Having been at two meetings which DNR's Carl Batha attended he told opposite stories on the same issue. So we know exactly how much to believe from the DNR on this issue.
The Green County Tourism Committee
never voted to rip out the rails. They voted to develop a recreational
trail. The resolution they passed made no mention of ripping out the
rails. But this committee made up of less than the brightest bulbs in
the lamp shop, was sold a bill of goods by the transit commission chairman
and tourism committee chairman and both sit on the Green County Board.
It makes for an easier sell to the county board when you have two people
misleading their fellow board members. For the past seven years the
commission chairman has been telling the commission that the Ilinois
DNR was going to bring the trail right to Monroe. That was about a likely
to happen as the Wisconsin DNR starting a Wisconsin State Park in
So it's going to cost too much too replace the tracks the experts said. Truth is the prices the experts threw out were to rebuilt it to a standard far above what was required or needed. Two year ago we had priced out the rehab and it came up to about $5 million. The DOT told everyone that these figures were incorrect. Surprise, now the DOT says it would cost $4.9 million. But the DOT got the what they wanted, the line removed. And the most recent interested operator wanted nothing from the state in the line of money or subsidy. The DOT quickly circled the wagons and got their manure spreader going on high speed.
Back to the tourism issue, each April
we held Depot Days of Green County which was the only event of its type
in the country. This year in two days our speeder car rides drew nearly
10% of what the Sugar River Trail draws in 365 days.
Fact is the Sugar River State Trail has lost 40% of its ridership as has the Military Ridge Trail. The towns along the Sugar River State Trail have been rolling out the welcome mat for 25 years and they still ask where are those bikers who were going to make our economy boom? A couple of years back businesses in New Glarus were going to form a committee to try and lure bikers the one block from the trail headquarters to uptown. That quickly ended as a lost cause. If this trail is so darn good for our economy why in 25 years has there been not a single business started to cater to bikers? In most to the towns you probably can't even buy a bike tire or tube if you needed one.
Green County already has two trails which are losing users. If you had a business you wouldn't expand when you business is in decline. Why should we want another one?
And we in Green County who have sold our souls to "tourism," and the cries of the jobs it creates are tired of it. The tourism jobs are great if you happen to have three or four of them. Then there's a chance you can purchase an overpriced house and have enough money left over to pay the taxes.
A railroad catering to a rapidly changing
agricultural economy will keep the farmers on the farm growing grain
instead of the waferboard waldorf's you Madisonians love to build on
all our hilltops, loading up our schools, and driving taxes ever higher
because each one of those waldorfs takes out 25-40% more in services
than your taxes covers. The token farmer referred to in most cases as,
"my farmer," takes out 17 cents in services for each $1 he
pays in taxes. So in essence he's supporting your house and you want
to turn around and stick it to him a second time by reducing his marketing
It never ceases to amaze us how you
people from Madison always know what's best for us country bumpkins
who need your divine guidance in developing our destiny/demise. Two
quickly come to mind, Spencer (The Green) Black and Fred Risser. A couple
of years ago this dynamic duo "slipped the money into the state
budget to build this trail." The didn't give a darn about our future,
just another trail for the Perrier drinking Sahara Klub westsiders wanting
a new toy. Fortunately Tommy had the sense to veto the money.
In closing, Green County would like
to thank you for your wonderful insight into what we need in Green County.
Now, maybe you could use some of your vast pool of talent to get Madison
moving into the 20th century and possibly consider building a Madison
municipal swimming pool instead of using your weed choked, bacteria
Friday, July 30, 1999
Over the past two weeks a lot has happened in our fight to save the Illinois Central line. For all purposes we lost. Midwest Rail Dismantling began removing the track on Tuesday. But we haven't stopped fighting yet.
On Wednesday evening they had already torn out nearly 2000 feet in the city of Monroe. They expect that once they get going in more open areas to do more than 1000 feet per day. In talking with the crew last night they told me that there was approximately 20 miles of #90 rail which will be reused somewhere else. This pretty well shoots the argument that the rail would all have to be replaced. But then we've become accustomed to lies from the DOT.
At the Wednesday evening meeting of the Pecatonica Rail Transit Commission meeting Commissioner Harvey Kubly presented an excellent argument as to why this commission should be concerned about the removal of the rails.
According to L. Frank Huntington, transportation planner for Southwest WI Regional Planning Commission the Monroe-Janesville has only about 1868 cars per year on the entire length. When I talked to Frank on Tuesday he said they were concerned about the low volume on that line as well as the Madison Prairie du Chien line. A couple of weeks before this Frank told Monticello Village Clerk Carol Strause that the Mad-PDC line had "lots of traffic."
The South Central Commission has approved each request to remove road crossings from Belleville north to Madison. Thus the only viable option is to move all the traffic on the IC line south to Monroe and move it east through Janesville.
Kubly wisely argued that each car coming down the line from Belleville would strengthen the Monroe-Janesville line and increase the chances that WSOR would have a more financially viable line in the future. In the real world this makes sense. But common sense has never accounted for much with the South Central commission.
Robert Hoesly, New Glarus, is chairman of the South Central commission as well as the Pecatonica commission.
What happened last night was highly unexpected. Kubly made a convincing argument after one of the commissioners asked what removal of the IC tracks had to do with the east west line. Kubly explained the entire situation and made a motion that the Pecatonica Commission pass a resolution asking South Central to take another look at removal of the rails.
What happened next was a thing of pure beauty. Commissioner Greg Engen who works indirectly for Hoesly seconded the motion. Engen also sits on the South Central commission as well and in April voted to remove the rails on the IC line. The motion passed with no nay votes and Hoesly not voting. This was clearly a case of your dog biting you on the shins then peeing on your shoes for good measure.
After this vote Hoesly was visibly shaken for the balance of the meeting. And as expected Hoesly gave his 20 year history of the South Central commission which he would be well advised to tape and send out as Christmas gifts.
And as expected L. Frank Huntington again threw out the big numbers for rehab of the line, $18 million. The $18 million figures are not to not rehab but tear out everything and lay down all new. The actual cost for rehab of the 19 miles from Monroe to Belleville would be around $4.9 million.
In the 7-10 years we've been going to rail transit commission meetings we have never heard a discussion relating to, "what are we doing wrong, what can we do to make this line work, who can we have help us make the line work, lets advertise for an operator.
These people accept at face value everything the DOT and L. Frank tells them without ever questioning anything these people say.
We've heard the DOT tell the commission that there is absolutely no money available for rehab then L. Frank sends a letter that to access the rehab money the communities would have to put up a part of the money. In this case $3.6 million of the $18 million. But never once did anyone address the idea that if it were a true rehab versed a rebuild the communities share would be about $1 million. And the DOT administers at least two state and federal programs for rail rehabilitation.
As is the case in war that truth is always the first victim the same conclusion can be correctly drawn here.
Hoesly constantly complains that it costs the commission $10,000 each year to insure the rail corridor. Yet when a way found to insure it for $1 per year nobody picked up on the idea which would have been easy to do.
Adding to the confusion of this whole situation was Ron Smith of Agri Tech of Monroe. Smith has indicated that his grain storage business would like rail service from the Monroe end. To service Smith would take rehabing just under two miles of line from the connection in Monroe. Smith estimated that he would be able to utilize 250 cars on this two miles of line. WSOR says it needs 125 cars per mile per year to service a line and this certainly falls within that number.
One can draw many conclusions from what has happened but it almost appears at this point that the South Central Commission is willing to sacrifice the Monroe Janesville line just to show everyone that they can stick it to us.
Over the course of the past two years we have been able to disprove everything the DOT has put out to the public and the commission, yet some of these commission members still bow down and wash the feet of the DOT without ever considering that the people who work for the DOT are in our employ and not the other way.
Again last evening Hoesly talked about blowing the top off the tunnel because of the expense to repair it. Yet he never seemed to show any concern when the DNR wants the rail line for a recreational trail which will go through the tunnel. Apparently he has no idea that the tunnel is listed as having national historic significance.
Much to their credit the DNR had a structural engineer look at the tunnel last year and determined that it would take $150,000 to make it safe.
And that brings up the next point. At the April Green County Tourism meeting Carl Batha of the DNR told the committee that the DNR had no money for a trail. The following week Batha told the Green County Board that the DNR had all the money. Then on June 25th Batha told a meeting in Monticello that the DNR had no money for the trail.
If public officials are going to boldface lie to the public the least they could do is keep telling the same story.
So where does this leave us? To give you some idea of how the commission operates, Commissioner Harvey Kubly sent Hoesly a letter requesting an emergency meeting for last Friday (July 23) to reconsider the rail removal because the DOT had identified 2050 car loads per year which would be available for rail shipment.
Kubly never got a response back from Hoesly. But Hoesly was able to go to Monticello and tell the village president his 20 year story.
What has brought this issue forth has been the fact that tourism in Green County and New Glarus especially has been in a drastic decline for the past decade. Everything has been blamed for the decline. In their minds it the fault of them damn injuns runnin them casio's.
The casinos may have had some effect on tourism but that is not the real cause of the decline. Part of it can be blamed on old stale and tired festivals which fail to change with the times.
A part of it can be attributed to the information booth telling one customer that they would be best not to come to an event in New Glarus. It can be attributed to a guide at one of the attractions telling his group, "ya we don't like or want those Illinois people here anyway."
It makes no difference that those Illinois people are 65-68% of our tourism base. Nor does it make any difference that the very essence of what was no longer is. People came from Chicago to see green grass, black and white cows and red barns. Green grass has given way to waferboard houses growing out of every hilltop, cows have become corn fields, and the barns are now picture frames in giffttee shooppees. Nor does it make any difference that the area is very often over priced for what it is. They picture themselves as being Door County. They aren't and don't understand it. And if people from Chicago want to see waferboard waldorfs all then need not drive beyond eastern McHenry County.
Thursday, July 22, 1999
The Wisconsin DOT has awarded a contract of $314,405 to Midwest Rail and Dismantling, Inc. to rip out 39.75 miles of rail from Monroe to Madison, WI. Work is expected to begin in about one week.
Despite protests from six municipalities in Green and Dane County the DOT has shown their arrogance as is to be expected from an organization which could care less about the public, good public planning or anything they can't pave and get campaign contributions from.
The Villages of Monticello, Belleville and New Glarus along with the Towns of Montrose, Exeter and Mt. Pleasant and Green County Economic Development Corp. had requested that the rails remain to service present and future agricultural needs on the line.
According to figures the DOT came up with, a total of 2025 car loads per year were found on the 19 miles between Belleville and Monroe. This figures out to 106 cars per mile. A letter from Southwest WI Regional Planning Commissions Frank Huntington indicated that WSOR needed 125 cars per mile to make a line profitable.
Oddly on the Madison to Evansville line which WSOR wants to operate for the state there would be a total of about 20 cars per mile of rail operated. In a March 1998 letter from Jim Lombard of WSOR's marketing department to the City of Fitchburg indicated that this number of cars would make the line profitable. The letter indicated that there would be a gross revenue on the line of approximately $250,000.
At the April 23, 1999 South Central Rail Transit Commission meeting WSOR owner Bill Gardner was quoted as saying it costs him $10,000 per mile per year to maintain the rails. Using these figures it means that WSOR would have only $50,000 per year to pay all other fixed costs on the Madison/Evansville line.
When pressed on the issue of keeping this line, Governor Thompson for the second time has told someone that he (Thompson) "is only one vote in this." The first time Thompson made this comment was in late spring and most recently within the past week or two he made the comment to State. Rep. Rick Skindrud.
Given Thompson's ability to bulldog things he wants the question needs to be asked, "who is he trying to get to believe this?" What Tommy wants... Tommy gets.
There is no vote being taken on this at the state level. Perhaps there is something in the Capitol's drinking water which places politicians into an altered state of mind.
It seems very odd that Thompson can be so adamant about saving Amtrak but doesn't seem to be willing to save a rail line into Madison. But like my youngest son once quipped when he was about four years old. "Well dad it's just politics." And out of the mouths of babes comes the truth.
At a meeting on June 25 in Monticello the DOT said they were there to listen and had indicated that they had not made a final decision on the line. Today we read in the Monroe Times that the DOT had made a decision in mid June. Well, nobody ever accused the WISDOT of having the market on ethics or truth.
On numerous occasions Ron Adams of the DOT told the public that there was absolutely no money for rail rehabilitation. But in fact the Wisconsin Department of Commerce has a booklet of state programs for the express purpose of helping businesses. There is one program for railroad rehabilitation and the contact person is one and the same Ron Adams. There is also $3.5 billion in federal NEXTEA 21 money available for the same purpose.
The Dane County liberal environmentalists (Spencer the Green, Black in particular) are always whining about mass transit and yet they were the ones pushing the removal of rails for yet another under utilized trail which the people most directly affected want no part of.
The single biggest mistake made by
those wanting to save the rails was not donning their spandex railroad
overalls, funny helmets with rearview mirrors and not understanding
that those octagonal red signs which say STOP in big white letters really
aren't meant to be obeyed.
They come for the rural atmosphere which has departed. In reality much of western McHenry County IL is more rural than is the New Glarus area.
For the first 20 years that the Sugar River State Trail was headquarted in New Glarus the tourist industry didn't give a darn about the trail. But now that the public has realized that what they once came to New Glarus for is gone there is a sudden belated concern for the trail.
Consequently, the big push for more bikers. This same group fails to recognize that the snowmobilers are far more generous with their spending habits than are bike riders.
This year the New Glarus tourism booklet featured a beautiful farm scene on the cover. A pristine place such as Norman Rockwell may well have imagined smalltown southern Wisconsin was.
Unfortunately the cover photo isn't from the New Glarus area. Our physical geography is vastly different than what is shown on the cover photo. The photo used may well be from southeast Minnesota.
Thus we reached the point that something needed to be done to get the tourists back and the idea of 200,000 bikers appealed to these people. It made no difference that the DNR person who came up with those figures readily admits that the bulk of whatever the actual usage would be are commuter bikers in within the City of Madison. This group will not be spending much in New Glarus or anywhere else along the trail.
Clearly this whole thing is a right out of a Mark Twain story. "I came to realize I was getting drunk on the smell of another mans cork."
We will shed our tears, mourn our loss,
the loss of the final leg in the Illinois Central freedom train route.
The loss of the railroad
To all those wonderful people who have supported our efforts to save the line, we apologize for having failed you.
But we will go to our graves with the knowledge that we did what was right for our grandchildren.
And that is something those who succeeded in having the rails removed will never be able to say. Unfortunately greed wins out gain and common sense loses as it so often does.
Thursday, July 15, 1999
Thanks to all who inquired about our
Illinois Central RR tracks from Monroe to Madison.
*"The interchange at Madison can't
ever be replaced." It can because the alignment of a biker/pedestrian
overpass was aligned in such a way that the rails can be put back across
Despite all efforts to save the Illinois Central rails from Monroe to Madison the DOT has awarded a contract to a Milwaukee firm to remove the rails from the 39 miles of ROW (right of way) . The DOT has a pre-construction meeting set for this Thursday morning in Monroe. And in an attempt by the DOT to make peace with the people fighting to save the rails Tom Wildenborg of the DOT has invited the supporters of keeping the rails to attend the demolition meeting.
The true figures are now being told. At a recent meeting Terry Mulcahey Asst. Sec. of the DOT said the cost to repair the rails between Monroe and Madison would be $18.6 million. Now we find out that this figure included tearing out all rails and bridges and beginning from the ground up to put in class 2 track. The shortline operator, Pioneer Rail Corp was satisfied with class 1 track or even acceptable track.
Today the price from Monroe to Belleville which is the only piece of rail needed to move the 2025 car loads per year (DOT figures) is $6.2 million which makes the entire job sound much more reasonable.
On six different occasions Monticello Village Clerk Carol Strause asked what the deadline was to award the demolition contract and she was continuously told there was no certain deadline. Today Strause learned from Frank Huntington of Southwest Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission that there was a 30 day deadline after bids were opened. That means the deadline was July 9th, which gave Pioneer Rail Corp eight work days to determine if or not they could operate on the line.
The following are some of the players in this whole mess and what their connection is to this issue. Carl Batha-Wis. DNR-In mid April Batha told the Green County Tourism Committee that the DNR didn't have any money to construct this trail. One week later Batha told the Green County Board of Supervisors that the DNR had all the money for the project. On June 25th Batha told a Monticello meeting with shippers and DOT that the DNR didn't have the money.
***George Belloviux. In December 1998, Belloviux told several people at a Rail Transit Commission meeting at the Bank of New Glarus that the Illinois DNR would have money in March for the trail from Freeport, IL to complete trail to the state line. For the previous several years each time he was asked he said that the Illinois DNR had the money. It has now been over a year since the rails have been removed and nothing has been done to build a trail.
***Robert Hoesly--Green County Board President, Chair of the South Central Rail Transit Commission & the Pecatonica Rail transit Commission, member of the Green County Tourism Committee, present or past member of the board of directors of the Bank of New Glarus. For the past seven years Hoesly has told the county board and transit commission that the, "Illinois DNR would bring the trail right into Monroe." There was about a much chance of that happening as the Wisconsin DNR establishing a Wisconsin State Park in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
When pressed several years ago as to why the commission didn't make the former leaseholder on the IC line stick by the lease his response was, " we have to work with him on our other lines." Case closed.
At a recent tourism committee meeting when discussing a new sign at the county line which said welcome in German it was questioned what if people don't know what Wilkommen means. "If they don't know what it means we don't want them here anyway."
Is this a possible clue as to why tourism has dropped nearly approximately 25% over the past several years? The drop this year alone is about 26%.
Uncle Rodney Kreunen, Commissioner of Railroads in Wisconsin said in May 1997 that there would be a five year moratorium on removing the rails. After that statement he has been very quite.
In April 1998 at Pine Bluff, WI he said it was more important that the UP line from Madison to Evansville be saved and to make sure that WSOR was kept profitable.
After the Madison Capital Times editorialized in favor of keeping the rails in Uncle Rodney was quotd as saying he was in favor of keeping the rails in but the Green County board voted to remove the rails.
In a meeting with Uncle Rodney, he asked Carol Strause and Wade Wittenwyler of Monitcello, WI which political party the business manager requesting rail service was from?
***Rodney Kreunen is in favor of keeping a bit of the ROW in Madison so WSOR can park their passenger train on during football weekends at the UW Mad.Fieldhouse. Oddly it was WSOR who pushed to have all the rails removed and placed into the rails-to-trails program.
***Godfrey John Thomson, President of the Bank of New Glarus, promoter of a new recreational trail. Also serves as the president of the Sugar River State Trail. In January 1998 he asked the save the rails people if or not they would work toward a compromise of both uses. The save the rails people said they were willing to compromise. Nothing was ever done beyond that point.
***Jack Roberts, Roberts Drug Store owner, former Sugar River State Trail director, Bank of New Glarus Board member. Promoter of new trail.
***Kerwin Steffen---Bank of New Glarus board member and head thread of New Glarus Community Partners. He succeeded at getting himself hired for $33,000 for a one year contract to set up the hiring for a new community coordinator, a job he said he would not apply for. Steffen is now in his second year at that job. Apparently he was hired to hire himself. Pro-trail, anti rail. Teaches people how to properly rip the paper off flip charts.
***Greg Engen---Bank of New Glarus loan officer, Green County Board member, former director of Sugar River State Trail, member of South Central Rail and Pecatonica Rail Transit Commissions. Does what Hoesly, Roberts, Steffen, Thomson tell him to do.
***Hans Lenzlinger---Owner of the New Glarus Hotel, member of the Green County Tourism Committee. Very pro-trail, yet several years ago in a moment of brutal honesty commented that, "the Sugar River Trail doesn't do _ _ _ _ for my business."
***Matt Urban--Monroe Chamber of Commerce Exec. Director and member of the Green County Tourism Committee. Has continuously told anyone who would listen that there have been no requests for sites in the Monroe Industrial Park which were interested in rail service. Three requests within the past 30 days.
***Anna Raggins--Green County Economic
Development Exec. Director---Missing in action. Spends most of her time
doing flip chart
***State Rep. Mike Powers.--Did a survey of his district on rails or trails. Rails won with about 65% in favor. Voted with his Republican pappa san Hoesly.
***State Senator Erpenbach---Missing in action. Offered a compromise from the DNR let the speeder cars put rubber tires on and we'll give them a permit to run on the new trail two days each year. Erpenbach serves on the Midwest high speed passenger rail commission and has never ridden a train.
***Former State Sen. Wineke--Enough hot air to be a balloon festival but nothing else.
***State Rep. Rick Skindrud.--Rick went to the wall to save the rails and got bombed at every intersection. Rick was the only legislative hero there was/is.
***Frank Huntington---Transportation planner for Southwest Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission---He told the governors office that there was "absolutely no traffic on the line." Has never done anything of any value to help save the line.
***Harvey Kubly, Monticello---South
Central Rail Transit Commission member, one of only two members of the
commission who's lights are on. A real fighter for rail service. Harvey
has the patience of a saint. He has to to work with these people.
Draw your own conclusions from this. Or as Belleville Vllage President Paul Ziehli put it last evening, Gov. Thompson can work to save Amtrak but apparently he doesn't seem to care about saving our rails."
Southern Wisconsin Railcar Group.