Metropolitan Planning Organization for the La Crosse, Wisconsin and La Crescent, Minnesota Area 

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Passenger Rail Planning for the La Crosse Area




Multimodal Transportation Connections to the La Crosse Amtrak Station


Since 1996, the states of Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri, in partnership with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Amtrak, have engaged in the planning of a high-speed Midwest passenger rail service that will meet the demands for intercity travel. The 3,000-mile Midwest Regional Rail Corridor network will radiate out from Chicago to serve the nine states engaged in the planning for high-speed rail service.

Wisconsin and Minnesota are currently conducting a Tier 1 environmental impact statement (EIS)study to the preferred alternative for high-speed rail service between Milwaukee and the Twin Cities.

The City of La Crosse currently receives passenger rail service through Amtrak’s Empire Builder, which offers only one round trip between Milwaukee and the Twin Cities. If the EIS process selects the existing Empire Builder route as the preferred alternative, the La Crosse area stands to benefit from six round-trips with travel speeds upwards of 110 mph between Chicago and the Twin Cities.


In 1998, La Crosse invested $2.8 million ($1.7 M in federal grant and $1.1 M in federal loan) to renovate the Amtrak Station at 601 Saint Andrew St. The significant investment in the historic Amtrak Station illustrates the importance this integral part of our transportation network has to the City and its residents. A renovated station, however, is only the first step in improving rail service for La Crosse area residents and visitors. The next step is to ensure we have the multimodal connections between the station and other transportation networks in the city. This plan identifies what needs to be done and recommends a plan of action for improved multimodal connections to the Amtrak Station.


The Amtrak Station resides at 601 St. Andrew St on the north side of La Crosse. It is bound on the north by the Canadian Pacific rail line (which runs northeast-southwest through La Crosse) on the east by Avon St, on the south by Island St, and on the west by the overpass of northbound USH 53 (Rose St). During construction of the overpass, Island St was converted to two dead-end streets, which eliminated direct access between the heavily industrialized area west of Rose St and the residential areas east of Rose St.

Transportation options for the Amtrak Station include Amtrak service itself, bus transportation (Jefferson Lines, Municipal Transit Utility, La Crosse County Aging Unit), taxi and hotel shuttle services, personal motor vehicle, and non-motorized options (biking and walking).

Empire Builder Service

The National Railroad Passenger Corp or "Amtrak" as it is more commonly called operates 1,935 railroad cars, which include 159 sleeper cars, 860 coach cars, 140 first class/business class cars, 60 dormitory/crew cars, 260 lounge/café/dinette cars, 78 dining cars, and the balance as baggage cars. On some of the commuter routes on the east and west coasts, Amtrak allows bicyclists to bring their bikes on to the train and secure them to a bicycle rack. Amtrak, however, requires bicycles to be boxed and checked as luggage for transport on the Empire Builder.

The Amtrak Empire Builder provides rail passenger service through the La Crosse area on Canadian Pacific Railway track with one long-distance train between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest. Westbound from Chicago, this train travels through Sturtevant, Milwaukee, Columbus, Portage, Wisconsin Dells, and Tomah in Wisconsin before it arrives at the La Crosse station. The train leaves at approximately 7:14 p.m., passing through Winona and Red Wing in Minnesota before it arrives in Minneapolis/St. Paul on its way to Seattle, WA/Portland, OR. Eastbound from Seattle or Portland, this train arrives in La Crosse at about 10:47 a.m. Connections to other Amtrak lines for travel to the Southwest, Southeast, or Northeast can be made in Chicago—Amtrak’s fourth busiest station in the country.

The number of passengers arriving and departing the La Crosse station (Figure 1-1) experienced some fluctuation in the beginning of the decade, but began to steadily increase after 2004. The number of passengers increased more than 40% between 1999 and 2009, with only a slight dip of 2% from 2008 to 2009. Fiscal year 2010 had Amtrak rail lines throughout the country reporting record ridership. Relative to service in Wisconsin and Minnesota, the Hiawatha Line between Chicago and Milwaukee was up 6.1% and the Empire Builder, Amtrak’s most popular long-distance line, was up 3.5% from fiscal year 2009.


Jefferson Lines

Jefferson Lines is an intercity bus service that prior to December 1, 2010 was located at the Amtrak Station. The service has since transferred to the Grand River Station transit center in downtown La Crosse at 314 Jay St and no longer serves the Amtrak Station. Jefferson provides one westbound bus to Minneapolis that leaves the transit center at 5:05 p.m. and one eastbound bus to Milwaukee with stops in Sparta and Madison that leaves the transit center at 3:10 p.m.

Municipal Transit Utility (MTU)

MTU is the urban fixed-route transit provider in the City of La Crosse. The MTU system consists of ten routes, three of which are contracted with surrounding communities (Campbell, La Crescent, and Onalaska). The MTU core routes operate between the hours of 5:12 a.m. and 10:40 p.m. Monday through Friday, 7:42 a.m. and 7:40 p.m. on Saturday, and 7:42 and 6:40 p.m. on Sunday. Two of the core routes—Route 6 North Side and Route 5 Valley View—offer access to the Amtrak Station. The Route 6 northbound on Rose St offers the shortest walk to/from its bus stop at Rose St and Gould St. The trip includes a one-block walk on Gould St and a two-block walk on Caledonia St. Access to/from the closest bus stop at Copeland Ave and Hagar St along the southbound Route 6 includes a three-block walk on Hagar St, a one-block walk on Avon St, and a one-block walk on St. Andrew St. The Route 5 will drop you off at either George St & Island St or George St & Hagar St for a direct six-block walk nearly due west. Island St between Charles St and George St does not have sidewalks, however.

The lack of MTU fixed-route service to the Amtrak station was studied during the process for the Multimodal Transit Element (2004) and the 2008-2015 Transit Development Plan (2007). The Multimodal Transit Element (2004) recommended considering a shuttle service between the train station and the downtown transit center. The recommendations for the transit development plan considered improvements through modifications to existing routes without costly investment. Informal discussions with MTU staff concluded at that time that the Valley View route did not have enough flexibility in its schedule to allow for a deviation to the train station. Changes in MTU service since 2004 and the potential for increased Amtrak service, however, necessitate revisiting the concept of deviated service to the station by MTU fixed-route service. Options for deviated service by the Route 5 Valley View and the Route 6 North Side are recommended for increased passenger rail service to the train station. (See Figure 2 for deviated service options.)

La Crosse County Aging Unit

The Aging Unit provides transportation services anywhere within La Crosse County on the Minibus to people over 60 years of age and to adults with disabilities. This service, however, requires a reservation at least 24 hours in advance and only operates between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. on Saturday.

Taxis & Hotel Shuttles

CTS Taxi on Hood St and Bee Cab on Island St provide door-to-door service for a fee, while the Best Western Midway, Holiday Inn, Radisson, Marriott Courtyard, and Settle Inn hotels in La Crosse and the Stoney Creek Inn in Onalaska offer free shuttle service for hotel patrons from/to the Amtrak Station.

Motor-Vehicle Access & Off-Street Parking

The Amtrak Station is accessed most easily from the east by St. Andrew St, from the north by Avon St, and from the south by Caledonia St or Avon St. Since Island St was converted to a dead-end street, access from the west is accomplished by traveling north to Hagar St, east to Avon St, and south to St. Andrew St, or south to Gould St and east to Caledonia St. The station does have ample free short- and long-term parking.

Bicycle & Pedestrian Accommodations

Because the Amtrak Station is located in an older area of La Crosse, the streets were constructed in a grid pattern with sidewalks flanking both sides. As is with motor vehicle access, access by bike or on foot is best accomplished from the north, east, or south. The 2035 Coulee Regional Bicycle Plan adopted by the La Crosse Area Planning Committee (LAPC) in May 2010 recommends signing St. Andrew St as a bike route and providing shared bicycle/parking lanes and shared road markings on Avon St between Monitor St and St. Andrew St. The City of La Crosse is planning a shared-use path (dashed line in Figure 3) between Monitor St and St. Andrew St near the park.


The following actions are recommended to improve multimodal service and connections for the general public to the Amtrak Station:

  • Implement a deviated fixed-route transit service when passenger rail service is improved. Figure 2 illustrates two of the most feasible options for deviation by the Valley View and northbound North Side routes.

  • Implement the recommendations set forth in the 2035 Coulee Regional Bicycle Plan (2010):


    • Sign St. Andrew St as a bike route.

    • Install shared bicycle/parking lanes and shared road markings on Avon St between Monitor St and St. Andrew St.

  • Work with Amtrak to provide a car with bicycle racks so that bicycles do not have to be boxed to be transported between Milwaukee, La Crosse, and the Twin Cities.

  • Install missing sidewalks on Island St between Charles St and George St.

  • Improve information:


    • Provide MTU transit schedules at the Amtrak Station.

    • Advertise International Mountain Bicycling Association ride center status.

    • Provide regional bike route maps at the Amtrak Station.

    • Provide directional signage to Amtrak Station.


(Click on graphics for larger .pdf versions)

Figure 2: Existing and Proposed Transit Connections to the Amtrak Station:

Figure 3: Existing and Proposed Bicycle Connections to the Amtrak Station.


 Contact the LAPC   


La Crosse County Administrative Center
Room 1200
212 North 6th Street
La Crosse, Wisconsin  54601