Suppose you are looking for an excellent alternative to the drive on I-94 between Chicago and Milwaukee, try Amtrak’s Hiawatha. This train offers a convenient and comfortable way to travel between the Windy City and the Brew City and the stops in-between. Plus, it can save you money on parking!
The Hiawatha runs 14 daily trains or 7 round trips between Milwaukee, WI, and Chicago, IL. From end to end, the journey takes around an hour and a half covering 86 miles. The train average 58 mph with a maximum speed of 79 mph.
Due to COVID-19, the Hiawatha frequency has changed along with a few of the usual procedures. I wrote this article for “normal” times, and to highlight the changes due to the pandemic, I added the red boxes, such as this one, to show the temporary changes.
Amtrak’s Hiawatha The Stops & Schedule
The Hiawatha route consists of five stations. While the downtown Milwaukee and Chicago Union stations have Amtrak staff, the intermediate stations are unstaffed. Below is the list of stations served by the Hiawatha.
- MKE: Milwaukee Intermodal Station (WI)
- MKA: Milwaukee General Mitchel Airport (WI)
- With shuttle service to Milwaukee Mitchell Airport
- SVT: Sturtevant (WI)
- GLN: Glenview (IL)
- CHI: Chicago Union Station (IL)
Interesting Tidbits About Amtak’s The Hiawatha
The Hiawatha is apart of Amtrak’s Midwest Regional Corridor. This route receives funding from both the Wisconsin and Illinois Departments of Transportation with locomotives and equipment owned by both DOT’s.
The now-defunct Milwaukee Road owned the tracks used by this route, and Amtrak named the train after Milwaukee Road’s passenger trains. This route had a few names throughout the years but has maintained the current title since 1989. These days Canadian Pacific owns the tracks down to a place call Roundout, where Metra takes ownership of the rails. Amtrak takes ownership of the rails near Chicago Union Station.
Hiawatha’s Consist – Cars & Locomotives
The standard Hiawatha fleet or consists of one locomotive, typically a Seiman’s SC-Charger SC-44, GE Genius, or GE Dash 8. Passenger ride in six coaches, either Horizon or Amfleet I cars. At the south end of the train often is an EMD-F40PH converted into a cab and baggage car.
Due to COVID-19, temporarily, the fleet is reduced to four coaches; this can change at any time.
New coach cars are coming to the Hiawatha, but not a set published to date. These cars were built in the USA by Siemans in California. These cars are starting to appear in Chicago and will be on the rails after testing.
The Amenities Of Amtrak’s Hiawatha Coach Cars
- Each coach car has 68 seats with room to accommodate wheelchairs or mobility scooters
- Each coach has two bathrooms
- Luggage storage shelves at one end of the coach car and overhead storage
- Free cellular-based wifi
- Decent legroom
- Fold up tray and mesh pocket for small items
- Two outlets at every seat.
- Reading Lights
The Hiawatha Quiet Car
The Quiet Car is the last in the direction of travel. Signs hang from the ceiling, indicating that the car is indeed the official Quiet Car.
There is no additional charge for Quiet Car, but passengers should occupy only one seat and not make a home office using two seats. You only paid for one seat. Passengers who board the train and find that seats are only available in the Quiet Car must follow the Quiet Car guidelines. Amtrak guidelines are:
Guests are asked to limit conversation and speak in subdued tones. Phone calls are not allowed, and all portable electronic devices must be muted or used with headphones (passengers using headphones must keep the volume low enough so that the audio cannot be heard by other passengers). Low overhead lighting creates a restful atmosphere for all passengers, but reading lights are available.Amtrak’s Website 9/2020
How To Purchase Tickets
Amtrak sells oneway, round trip, ten-ride, monthly, or connecting train to another destination tickets. Amtrak tickets can are available from any of the sources below.
- In-person from agents at the Milwaukee or Chicago Stations
- The Amtrak App
- Calling 1-800-USA-RAIL
- Onboard with cash, and there is a fee.
- Quik-Tik machines at all Station
- Or using your Amtrak Guest Rewards points
Currently, Amtrak is cashless, so buy your tickets before getting on the train.
Conductors can scan a paper ticket, those given at stations, or printed pdf file emailed from Amtrak. You also can go paperless and have your ticket scanned from your electronic device either from the app or the emailed pdf.
Peak Train Fares On The Hiawatha
The Hiawatha has peak fare trains that run Monday through Friday; those trains include 329. 331. 337. and 339 and cost a few dollars extra. If you have a peak ticket, you can ride any Hiawatha train, even if it not the one on your eticket.
Trains 329 and 331 are the morning southbound trains, and 337 and 339 are northbound during the late afternoon.
Unreserved Train And What That Means
During Covid-19, trains are running as reserved trains at 50% capacity to allow for social distancing. Meaning your ticket must reflect the date and time you wish to travel. So, currently, this section is not valid until things return to normal.
The Hiawatha has unreserved reserved coach seating. Amtrak makes an effort to provide seats for every passenger on these trains, but seating is not guaranteed. Usually, there are enough seats for everyone, but there may not be enough seats on rare occasions, like huge events like when the Cubs play in Milwaukee.
Hiawatha tickets can be used for other Hiawatha trains even if that is not what the ticket says, but the ride must be the same fair or less. Peak fare tickets will work on any Hiawatha trains while non-peak fairs only work on other non-peak fare trains. You can upgrade an un-peak ticket to a peak one if needed.
For example, you were going to Chicago from Milwaukee and booked a ticket for train number 330 the 6:15 am Hiawatha, but it took too long at Stone Creek to get coffee, and you missed, fear not, hop on the 332 Hiawatha that leaves at 8:05. You could ride any other southbound train that day.
Thanksgiving And The Hiawatha
The Hiawatha runs as a reserved train, except for the Thanksgiving season, meaning your ticket needs to match the train you want to ride.
The Hiawatha’s Ten-Ride & Monthly Pass
The Hiawatha offers ten-ride or monthly passes for convenience and to save money. The monthly tickets allow for one round trip per day, and the ten-ride allows five round trips within 60 days. During the week, you can use the Hiawatha Lounge, the former Metropolitan Lounge, to wait for trains 337 or 339.
Covid-19 And The Hiawatha
Currently, the Hiawatha is running at half the capacity for social distancing.
AMTRAK IS RUNNING THE HIAWATHA AS A RESERVED TRAIN. You need the proper ticket for your ride. Ten-ride and monthly pass holders need to check-in for the train they want to ride using the app. For more information on Amtrak and Covid-19, click here. Amtrak requires a face mask while at the station, boarding, and moving around the train. Ask Amtrak staff for more details.
Luggage On The Hiawatha
Checked luggage is only available to passengers ticketed to or from Milwaukee and Chicago. Passengers who get on or off at an intermediate stop can take advantage of Amtrak’s generous carry-on policy.
Here is an Amtrak travel trip. You can check bags during layovers providing you do so 45 minutes before the next train’s departure, and the next station has baggage service.
Here is an example of that tip. I am traveling from Sturtevant, WI, to Omaha, NE, to visit my sister and her family. I might have an extra box of goodies for my niece, and I don’t want to carry the whole trip. Because SVT does not have check bags, I could take the box onto the Hiwatha, and when I get to Chicago, I could check it and then pick my package up in Omaha. Providing I do it 45 minutes before departure.
What You Need To Know About Amtrak’s Hiawatha
Riding the Hiwatha is easy, buy a ticket, get to the station early, hop on, sit back and relax, and have your eticket ready for the conductor. But there are a few other things you should know.
Any open seat can be your seat, but be nice and friendly if you need to share. Half of the seats in each car face the direction of travel, and the others face “backward,” splitting in the middle, so the seats face the doors. You are free to go to other coaches to find that perfect seat for you to sit back and enjoy the ride.
If the train is busy, such as the peek trains, often you will not get both seats to yourself. If you find yourself on a busy train, place your things either above your head or out of the way so someone else can sit in the open seat. As much as you want both seats, the reality is, you only paid for one. Making a home office buy using both tray tables or sitting on aisle seats to make it inconvenient to sit by you is rude to others.
Alcohol consumption on the train is not permitted. Also, there is no food or drink service on the train, so pack accordingly.
Amtrak’s Hiawatha Connecting Buses & Transfering To Other Trains
Connecting To Other Trains
You can take the Hiawatha to Chicago Union Station to transfer to Amtrak’s long-distance and regional trains. If you are plan on taking the Empire Builder, you can catch that train in Chicago and Glenview, IL, or in downtown Milwaukee, WI. If you are leaving from Sturtevant or the Milwaukee Airport, take the Hiawatha to Milwaukee (or Chicago if you want the extra fun).
Amtrak Thruway Bus Service
Amtrak is now offering Thruway Service to cities along I-41. Now Amtrak can take you from Chicago or any of the intermediate stops to Oshkosh’s Wittman Airport and UW Oshkosh, Appleton, De Pere, and Downton Green Bay. This service is available without a connection train.
Amtrak Thruway Connections
Besides trains and Amtrak run buses, Amtrak offers connecting services with other companies, such as bus companies, taxies, and different transport modes. If you buy tickets for non-Amtrak Connect buses, you need to have a train ticket if you are purchasing them through Amtrak. Meaning you cannot buy a bus ticket to Madison from Amtrak if you leave the Intermodal Station; at that point, buy your bus ticket from the bus company directly.