Travel By Train to Milwaukee

  James  6 mins read.

Travel By Train

If you live anywhere in the Midwest taking a train to Milwaukee is sometimes easier than flying. It is often possible to get a great deal of reading, writing, and other work done while riding the train.

Using a combination of WiFi access on the train, and tethering to your phone you should be able to access the internet during your trip. This access can be a bit intermittent, yet is generally sufficient for emailing and basic web browsing.

Connections on Amtrak are often excessively long and unpredictable, and typically best avoided. The Hiawatha commuter link between Chicago and Milwaukee is an exception to this rule. The Hiawatha route is short, frequent, and fairly reliable.

Outside of the Midwest, it generally makes far more sense to fly.

Consider a Roomette


I strongly recommend a roomette or at least business class if traveling for more than a few hours.

A first class ticket comes with free meals, which helps to make up for the additional cost.

On long-distance trains with multiple levels, the upstairs roomettes generally have a much better view and make it easier to access the rest of the train. The only downside is they are less ADA accessible than the lower levels.

Milwaukee Amtrak Station Location

The Milwaukee Amtrak station is at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station which is a few blocks away from the various Milwaukee downtown hotels. Although you could easily walk to your hotel if traveling light, a short Uber or taxi ride is probably a better idea with heavy bags, or if arriving late at night.

Milwaukee’s free streetcar system, named The Hop, has a stop just outside of the Milwaukee Intermodal Station. It is very likely this goes right past your downtown hotel, and could be an easy option for you. As you can see from the system map, it terminates in front of the Amtrak station. Late at night, an Uber or taxi might be safer.

To obtain a Certified LeSS Practitioner certification you must attend the entire course. As a practical matter this often requires spending an additional night in a hotel, and returning home the next day. Please plan accordingly.

Chicago to Milwaukee

The Hiawatha is a particularly easy travel choice if you are coming from downtown Chicago. The Hiawatha only takes one hour and fifteen minutes to travel between downtown Chicago and downtown Milwaukee. This even faster than the two hours it takes to drive, assuming good traffic.

When you look at the Hiawatha schedule you will see multiple routes per day in both directions. Almost all of these are proper trains with large comfortable seats, even though technically “coach” class. The one notable exception is train #8307 which is indicated as “BUS” on the schedule. I strongly advise avoiding the “BUS” version of the train in favor of the real train.

Elsewhere in the Mid-West

In most cases train travel to Milwaukee involves taking a train to Chicago, and then taking the Hiawatha to Milwaukee. The only notable exceptions are travel on the Empire Builder and Borealis.

The Empire Builder is a long-distance train with coach and first-class service which comes from Seattle and passes through Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Milwaukee, on its way to Chicago.

The Borealis is a commuter train on a segment of the above route which only goes as far west as Minneapolis. The Borealis has coach and business class seats. The Borealis has daytime travel times in both directions.

The Amtrak website can be a bit clunky to navigate. The following links can be helpful.

  • Amtrak Home Page with a booking feature comparable to most airline websites. The search results will be less confusing if you already know which train routes will work best for you.

  • Amtrak System Map

  • Summary page of every Amtrak route. The schedules link in the navigation bar is especially useful for identifying your best option for travel to Milwaukee (MKE).

Summary of Mid-West Train Options

With the exception of the Empire Builder and Borealis, each of these routes will require connecting to the Hiawatha in Chicago. The schedules link on the Amtrak routes page will make it easy to see the departure and arrival times in both directions.

Train Schedule Reliability

In my experience, the schedule reliability of a long-distance Amtrak train becomes increasingly worse the further one gets from the origin. A train such as the Texas Eagle will consistently leave Chicago on-time as it begins its journey towards Los Angles. In contrast, if you are attempting to go from Dallas to Chicago on the north-easterly bound Texas Eagle which originates in Los Angeles, don’t expect the train to pass through Dallas on schedule.

When taking a long-distance train from the mid-point it is best to check the train status during its journey, and only go to the train station once the train starts to get close to your embarkation point.

For this reason, it sometimes makes sense to take the train in one direction but not the other.

Similarly, all other things being equal, a regional train route is often more reliable than a national train route. Regional routes are shorter, and thus have less opportunity to become drastically behind schedule.

Consider checking historical arrival and departure times before you finalize your travel plans.