- Empire Builder
LaCrosse started out as a logging town on the southern edge of the Northwoods region of Wisconsin in the 19th century. The first trains to pass through the town, therefore, were freight designed to carry fresh timber from the booking logging industry along the river. The Milwaukee Road first arrived in LaCrosse in 1858, and about twenty years later the first railroad bridge spanning the Mississippi in the area was built. By the turn of the century, 30 passenger trains were arriving in and departing from LaCrosse daily.
The current station was built in 1927 for the Milwaukee Road. It underwent a major renovation in 2001 in order to update the platform and make other general improvements. The only train that now operates through the Amtrak station is the Empire Builder, which remains an important transportation option for, among others, college students who are travelling to and from one of the three universities in the area. Because of the train’s popularity, advocates would also like to see a second daily service of the Empire Builder train, which is the northernmost train route still operating across the Rockies.
INCREASED FREQUENCY ON THE EMPIRE BUILDER
Currently, the Empire Builder operates once daily each way on its route. However, the popularity of the route (sleeper cars are in fact so busy they’re frequently sold out) indicates to many that there is a market for a second daily frequency between Minneapolis-St Paul and Chicago, with a stop in LaCrosse. State legislatures have signed on to various levels of commitment to the project, and advocates are currently pushing for a Phase II Environmental Assessment. If support remains, it’s possible the increased frequency could be operating by 2020 or 2022.