Try Amtrak’s Hiawatha if you are looking for an alternative to the I-94 drive between Chicago and Milwaukee. The Hiawatha offers a convenient and comfortable way to travel between the Windy City and the Brew City, with a few stops in between. Plus, it can save you money on parking!
The Hiawatha was my first experience with Amtrak; to date, it is the Amtrak train I have been on the most.
Due to the pandemic, not everything has fully “returned to normal,” but a few changings still in effect. A few sections have strike-through in the text to show that, for now, they are not relevant. Amtrak can change things at any time.
The Hiawatha runs fourteen daily trains or seven round trips between Milwaukee, WI, and Chicago, IL, plus the three intermediate stops, Milwaukee Airport, Sturtevant, WI, and Glenview, IL.
The journey takes around an hour and a half covering 86 miles from end to end, with an average speed of 58 mph with a maximum speed of 79 mph (stops lower than the average speed).
Amtrak’s Hiawatha The Stops & Schedule
The Hiawatha route consists of five stations:
- 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)
The intermediate stations are unstaffed, while the endpoints, Milwaukee Intermodal, and Chicago (Union) Stations are staffed.
A Quick Overview of Amtrak’s Hiawatha
The Hiawatha is a part of Amtrak’s Midwest Regional Corridor. This route receives funding from the Wisconsin and Illinois Departments of Transportation. This route, over the years, has proven profitable, and the DOTs received money back from Amtrak. These departments own the locomotives.
A brief history of the Hiawatha
The now-defunct Milwaukee Road owned the tracks used on the current route, and Amtrak named the train after the Milwaukee Road’s passenger train line that once ran these tracks.
This route has had a few names throughout the years but has maintained the current title since 1989.
Who owns the tracks?
Today Canadian Pacific (CP) owns the tracks from Milwaukee to Roundout, and Metra takes ownership of the rails, but CP still dispatches them. Amtrak owns the track and dispatches trains around Chicago Union Station.
Hiawatha’s Consist – Cars & Locomotives
Before 2020, the standard Hiawatha fleet consists of one locomotive, a Seiman’s Charger SC-44, GE Genius, or GE Dash 8. Passengers 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.
Coach car layout in the next section.
Currently, (2022), the fleet is reduced to three coaches and a cafe car for wifi; this can change. As more people start to return to in-person work, the Hiawatha should return to its former self, but there is no date for that.
Amenities Of Current Amtrak’s Hiawatha Coach Cars
- Each coach car has 68 seats with room for 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 diagram below gives you an idea of what the car layout may look like, Horizon and Amfleet cars have similar arrangements.
The Hiawatha Quiet Car
The Quiet Car is the last car for the Northbound train and the first can in the Southbound. Signs hang from the ceiling, indicating that the car is 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 available seats 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 6/2022
How To Purchase Tickets
Amtrak sells one-way, round trip, ten-ride, and monthly tickets, plus you can use the Hiawatha to connect with Amtrak’s long-distance network and Midwest corridor.
Amtrak tickets 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. (I would use this as a last option only)
- Quik-Tik machines at all station
- Or using your Amtrak Guest Rewards points
Conductors can scan a paper ticket or go paperless and use your electronic device from the app or the emailed pdf.
Peak Train Fares On The Hiawatha
Amtrak and the state sponsors suspended peak fairs for now.
The Hiawatha has peak fare trains that run Monday through Friday, including 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 is not 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
To my knowledge, Amtrak is still running the Hiawatha as a reserved train, so you need a ticket for the date and time you want to ride.
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 it 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 it; 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 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.
Luggage On The Hiawatha
Checked luggage service is only available to passengers ticketed to or from Milwaukee and Chicago. Passengers getting on or off at any intermediate stop can take advantage of Amtrak’s generous carry-on policy but cannot check bags.
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 travel from Sturtevant, WI, to Omaha, NE, to visit my sister and 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 Hiawatha, 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 Hiawatha 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 can go to other coaches to find that perfect seat to sit back and enjoy the ride.
If the train is busy, such as the peak trains, often you will not get both seats to yourself. If you find yourself on a busy train, place your things above your head or out of the way so someone else can sit in the open seat.
As much as you want both seats, you only paid for one. Making a home office using both tray tables or 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 plan to take the Empire Builder, you can catch that train in Chicago, Glenview, IL, or downtown Milwaukee, WI. If you leave 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 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.
How To Save Money On The Hiawatha
There are a few ways to save money on the Hiawatha; check out this page for more information. There are discounts for seniors, kids, and more.
If you are a student, you can save 15% on your ticket using the code V307. Check out this page for more information or to book.
You Can Take The Hiawatha To Several Airports
The Hiawatha can help you save money if you need to catch a plane. There may be more options than below, but these experiences work best for me.
Using a map app may help you from getting lost if you are not acquainted with the area.
The Sturtevant Station Can Be Your Friend!
The Sturtevant Depot can be a traveler’s friend whether you are traveling by train, plane, or bus. Parking is one price for up to 30 days.
You can leave from this station and head to Chicago to pick up mass transit to either airport; more on that in the next section.
Or you can use this train to get to Milwaukee Airport to catch a plane, or you get a bus to O’Hare.
Lastly, you can take the northbound Hiawatha to downtown Milwaukee to catch a bus to O’Hare, the Empire Builder, or connect to a bus.
Milwaukee Mitchell Airport & Amtrak Station
Milwaukee Mitchell Airport is a regular stop along this route with a station code of MKA. The station is a short distance from the airport, with a shuttle service to take you to the terminal.
Whatever Hiawatha you take to this station, you will quickly connect to the Milwaukee Mitchell Airport, whether you live in Wisconsin or the Greater Chicago area. Hiawatha can save money and offers a convenient way to catch your next flight.
You can take the Hiawatha from downtown Milwaukee to this stop or north of any southern train stops.
Or you can leave from this stop to travel to Chicago to another airport or another Amtrak train. Parking at this station is by the day.
As I said before, the one way to save money on parking is to leave your car at the Sturtevant Depot and take the train north which offers monthly parking for a one-time low rate. It takes about 13 minutes for the train to take you 15 miles.
Although parking differs, the Hiawatha from Chicago, Glenview, or Chicago Union Station is just as easy as leaving from SVT.
You can also take this train from downtown Milwaukee, a short eight-mile ride.
To the Airport
Take the Hiawatha from any of the four northern stations to Union Station; walk a few blocks, about .4 miles, east to the Quincy Organ Line stop.
Make sure you follow the signs because four routes use these stops and different tracks. The Orange Line is the line furthest from Union Station.
Take the Orange Line to the end, and you can not miss the airport from there.
From the Airport
The Orange line starts here, and trains leave often. Take the train to the Quincy stop, get off and walk east, past the Sears Tower, aka the Willis Tower. Once you get to the station, go downstairs and wait in gate B, the Hiawatha waiting area.
To the Airport
Take the Hiawatha from any of the four northern stations to Union Station; walk a few blocks, about .2 miles, West to the Clinton Blue Line stop. You want to take the Blue Line North.
Take the Blue Line to the end, and you can not miss the airport from there.
From the Airport
The Blue line starts here, and trains leave often. Take the train to the Clinton stop, get off and walk West to the station. Go downstairs and wait at gate B, the Hiawatha waiting area.