Rail Transit Commissions were created under the provisions of Wisconsin Statutes 59.968 and 66.30 to preserve and continue freight rail service throughout the State. Many counties took advantage of this legislative opportunity in the late 1970's and early 1980's to secure and maintain freight rail through their community at a time when many railroads were being abandoned. Those counties interested preserving and overseeing freight corridor became members of a rail transit commission (RTC). Among activities, rail transit commissions may make acquisitions and rehabilitate rail; operate and maintain the lines; lease lines to a private railroad operator; or contract with any railroad operator to use these lines.
When formed, rail transit commissions and their member counties took ownership of all track and improvements currently in place within a specified geographic area (usually within the boundaries of their member counties). This includes rail line, ties, ballast, bridges, and all other associated improvements. The land underneath the improvements, however, is retained and owned by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Rail line track currently under the ownership of a rail transit commission is considered public infrastructure and is available for public transportation of goods and products, people, etc.
Most of the rail transit commissions in existence today have hired and contracted with a private railroad company to provide freight rail service to their counties, communities, and shippers.
Currently, Wisconsin is home to eight rail transit commissions, including: