After nine years of hard work and development Sheboygan County officials and business development partners cut the ribbon and rolled the first locomotive Monday for a freight rail line between Plymouth and Kohler.
While the existing rail line had been out of service for more than 20 years, it was only embargoed in 2006. Since then, local business leaders, government officials and economic development experts have pushed to refurbish the tracks.
In 2009, the state purchased the stretch of rail and contracted with Wisconsin and Southern Railroad to operate the line. In 2012, the state Department of Transportation announced financing of $17.1 million for the $19 million project. The rest of the restoration cost is being covered by Wisconsin and Southern, Plymouth, Sheboygan Falls, Sheboygan County, Bemis Manufacturing, Kettle Lakes Co-Op and Morelle Transfer Inc.
Dane Checolinkski, director of the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corporation (SCEDC), said “the active line will bring renewed economic opportunity to the area by allowing companies along the railway to cut transportation costs. Shipping by rail is about four times more efficient than by semi-tractor trailers.”
The SCEDC adds that in addition to having several plots of land available along the rail line for businesses to locate industrial or warehouse services, there are plans to establish a new intermodal system to transfer cargo loads from semis to freight lines.
Previously, DOT Secretary Mark Gottleib said “while the project highlighted the state’s commitment to promoting freight rail’s importance for industrial and agricultural uses, it was also a testament to the success of public-private partnerships to get such projects off the ground.”
“A line like this it just doesn’t fit into the business model of a lot of our private railroads to support private shippers on a line like this,” Gottleib said. “But the state, the Legislature and the governor know how important it is to maintain this type of freight rail service for individual shippers like Bemis and others so they can continue to grow and thrive in our state.”
Bemis Manufacturing’s David Howell said the project is crucial to his company’s business plans moving forward.
“Our industry is extremely competitive right now, and the logistics and infrastructure give us the resources we need to compete on a global scale,” Howell said.
Preliminary ground work started in 2014 with the removal of trees from the right of way and recycling old tracks, and ground breaking on the project occurred last March.
Customers seeking product transportation information should contact Wisconsin & Southern Railroad, 414-438-8810.