Hiawatha is the name of an 85-mile (137 km) train route operated by Amtrak on the western shore of Lake Michigan, although the name was historically applied to several different routes that extended across the Midwest and out to the Pacific Ocean. As of 2004, fourteen trains (seven round-trips, six on Sunday) run daily between Chicago, Illinois and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, making intermediate stops in Glenview, Illinois, Sturtevant, Wisconsin, and General Mitchell International Airport. The line is partially supported by funds from the state governments of Wisconsin and Illinois. It is one of the most heavily-used routes in the entire Amtrak system, aside from rail lines on the United States East Coast and in California, and the train has the best on-time service record of any in the Amtrak system. A one-way trip takes about 90 minutes.
Many weekday riders are commuters who live in Milwaukee and work in downtown Chicago, with weekend riders tending to be students and those visiting attractions in Chicago. Amtrak has accommodated regular business riders with monthly passes and at least one train that offers standard power outlets for laptop computers. Taking into account the differences in the cost of living, parking availability, and commuting times from Chicago suburbs, the Hiawatha service has made living in Milwaukee and working in Chicago a reasonable alternative.
A typical Hiawatha consists of one GE Genesis locomotive on one end, an EMD F40PH "cabbage car" on the other, and 5 coaches.
Historically, the trains were operated by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (also known as the "Milwaukee Road") and traveled from Chicago to the Twin Cities in Minnesota. The first Hiawatha trains ran in 1935. By 1945, there were actually three routes carrying the Hiawatha name.
From June 5, 1971 until October 1, 1979, a service known as North Coast Hiawatha ran from Chicago, Illinois, to Seattle, Washington. The train's route followed the historic Milwaukee Road route as far west as the Twin Cities, and then continued to Seattle largely using the historic transcontinental route of the Northern Pacific Railway via Bismarck, North Dakota, and Billings, Montana. The North Coast Hiawatha train name was an amalgam of the old Olympian Hiawatha name and the North Coast Limited, the name of a former Northern Pacific train. For most of its history, the Chicago–Seattle line ran three times weekly, although daily service was provided during some summer seasons. The Chicago–Twin Cities Hiawatha route ran once a day.
Odd-numbered trains from 329 to 341 run northbound, and even-numbered trains from 330 to 342 run northbound. 329 and 330 do not run on Sundays. All trains make the following station stops:
In 2005, another station opened on the line, the Milwaukee Airport Rail Station at General Mitchell International Airport. The expansion was intended to facilitate transfer to and from the airport as well (shuttles run between the station and the main terminal), and allow residents on the south side of Milwaukee easier access to the service, along with an alternative to the central station in downtown, which is currently somewhat inconvenient due to Marquette Interchange reconstruction blocking freeway exits near the station. The station was primarially funded and is maintained by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
Some have advocated that the current Amtrak line be extended to Madison—or even all the way back to the Twin Cities—and converted to high-speed rail. Such a conversion would probably happen as part of the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, which would improve rail lines between several Midwestern cities, using Chicago as a hub. The Hiawatha service would probably be boosted to about 110 miles per hour (177 km/h) from the current speed of 79 mph (127 km/h), reducing current Milwaukee to Chicago trip times by about 25 minutes. However, this remains an unlikely possibility for the foreseeable future.
- John Kelly (June 5, 2001). Amtrak's Beginnings. Classic Trains magazine. Accessed May 28, 2004.
- Mike Ramsey (May 27, 2004). Amtrak tracks budget feud. The Lincoln Courier. Accessed May 28, 2004.