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Group trying to boost rail service in northwoods

RHINELANDER, Wis. (WXPR) -- An Upper Peninsula college professor says communication breakdowns between business and the railroads is hurting commerce in northern Wisconsin and the Upper Penninsula of Michigan.

The Northwoods Rail Transit Commission met last week in Rhinelander. The group is composed of 11 Wisconsin counties and two from the U.P., trying to increase rail use in the region.

Dr. Pasi Lautala from Michigan Tech in Houghton says they've studied the needs of both shippers and haulers in the U.P. The shippers say if the railroad had more lines and cars they would use rail, while the railroads say they can't spend the money for lines and hauling unless they know the cargo is there. But he says Wisconsin Central Group has begun to change things.  "I haven't seen in any other state where the railroad and the shippers have decided.  Let's sit down and put our own committee together to try to improve the situation and have everybody at the same table."

Wisconsin Central is a rail freight stakeholders coalition. Lautala says the most encouraging development is the idea of smaller, more local and flexible terminals for the railroads. He says if a mine is built in Iron and Ashland counties, it is very likely rail service will be there, as there will be a steady supply of business.

The Northwoods Rail Commission meets bi-monthly in Rhinelander to encourage the use of freight rail in this area.