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Amtrak to reduce train stops in Wisconsin due to pandemic
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Amtrak to reduce train stops in Wisconsin due to pandemic

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Amtrak station in Portage

Amtrak is reducing the number of trains on its Empire Builder line starting Oct. 19 due to ridership decreasing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Amtrak passenger train Empire #8 makes a stop at the Portage train station on Tuesday.

In October, Amtrak will reduce the number of stops in Portage, Wisconsin Dells and Columbus, as ridership decreases due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The reduction is part of a nationwide cut that was announced in June. At that time, Amtrak said it was reducing all Empire Builder stops to three times a week starting in October.

The reduced service will begin Oct. 19.

The Empire Builder line currently runs daily from Chicago to Seattle, making stops in Milwaukee, Columbus, Portage, Wisconsin Dells, La Crosse and Tomah.

Steve Sobiek, city of Portage business development and planning director, said Amtrak is well used in Portage during a typical summer.

“Amtrak is moving forward with a plan to reduce all long-distance trains. It impacts the entire country,” said Sobiek. “It’s clearly going to have an impact. There’s going to be less people coming to Portage to get on the Empire Builder.”

Sobiek said it is pretty clearly a business decision.

“To be honest, less people are travelling, and when they are travelling they choose to do it by car,” said Sobiek. “(Amtrak) needs to match the expenditures and income. I’d imagine they’re running at a deficit.”

While the trains are being reduced during the pandemic, Sobiek said he is hopeful that Amtrak will rebuild the train line to stop more frequently after the pandemic.

“I would like to think that there are plenty of people at Amtrak that expect and anticipate rebuilding, but in this climate there are no guarantees,” said Sobiek.

Last year, the Portage Amtrak station underwent updates and repairs that included adding an accessible wheelchair ramp to the depot and the train.

“Boardings at the Portage depot have always been strong, and they have tended to be going up,” said Sobiek. “There’s no question that Amtrak is very popular with a wide demographic.

Follow Nicole on Twitter @Nicole_Aimone

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