Iowa passenger rail advocates hopeful despite subsidy questions


Share
Originally Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013, 12:10 pm
Last Updated: Feb. 18, 2013, 5:59 pm
Comment on this story | Print this story | Email this story

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Rail advocates haven't given up hopes of a passenger train resurgence that would link Chicago to Iowa City, Des Moines and Omaha, but questions about the need for government subsidies continue to bog down efforts.

Supporters of enhanced passenger service spoke out last week at the Iowa Statehouse, backed by the president of the Iowa Northern Railroad. They argued for plans to make the infrastructure improvements needed to start passenger service between Chicago and Iowa City, with hopes of later extending trains to Des Moines and Omaha.

Federal transportation officials committed $230 million in late 2010, with the condition that the Iowa and Illinois state governments would help pay for the project. Illinois has come up with money, and plans are moving ahead for extending passenger service to Moline.

Paris Ervin, spokeswoman for of the Illinois Department of Transportation, said Illinois agreed to spend $45 million and plans to start service in late 2015.

Advocates argue expanded passenger service is worth the money, but Gov. Terry Branstad has remained skeptical and since 2010 has opposed the needed state match to qualify for federal funding. Asked about spending state money on rail projects, Branstad didn't sound like he'd changed his mind.

'We want to make sure to protect the interests to the taxpayers of Iowa and that we don't have an ongoing subsidy that will cost the taxpayers of Iowa significant money,' he said.

Without a push to expand passenger rail into Iowa, Nebraska Department of Roads spokeswoman Mary Jo Oie said there likely wouldn't be serious talk about an extension into Omaha.

'There's never been enough support for it,' she said. 'It's still very early in the game.'

Support has been strong among some groups.

Last week, Dan Sabine, the president of Cedar Rapids-based Iowa Northern Railroad, joined Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, at a news conference where they backed rail expansion.

'We just think it's good for the state of Iowa and our industry,' Sabin said.

Much of the proposed route through Iowa would be on lines owned by Iowa Interstate Railroad.

Jerome P. Lipka, president and CEO of Iowa Interstate Railroad, said rail upgrades needed for passenger service wouldn't help his company financially and actually might be something of a nuisance, but he was willing to go along with the proposal as long as the railroad didn't pay for the work.

'We're doing it as a good citizen,' Lipka said. 'We do not see any benefits to the freight business with this project but we are willing to host them and willing to help the state.'

Nancy Quellhorst, executive director of the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce, said the line from Chicago to Iowa City would help local businesses and serve more than 6,000 Illinois students who attend the University of Iowa.

And Greg Youell, executive director of the Omaha Metropolitan Area Planning Agency, said there is plenty of local interest in passenger rail extension into both Omaha and Lincoln. He doesn't think the state government shares that passion.

'The state government in Nebraska sees it as a waste of money,' Youell said. 'It's disappointing from our viewpoint.'

Amtrak stops in both cities, but the daily westbound train arrives late at night and the eastbound train stops early in the morning.














 



Local events heading








  Today is Wednesday, April 23, the 113th day of 2014. There are 252 days left in the year.

1864 — 150 years ago: Some persons are negotiating for 80 feet of ground on Illinois Street with a view of erecting four stores thereon. It would serve a better purpose if the money was invested in neat tenement houses.
1889 — 125 years ago: The Central station, car house and stables of the Moline-Rock Island Horse Railway line of the Holmes syndicate, together with 15 cars and 42 head of horses, were destroyed by fire. The loss was at $15,000.
1914 — 100 years ago: Vera Cruz, Mexico, after a day and night of resistance to American forces, gradually ceased opposition. The American forces took complete control of the city.
1939 — 75 years ago: Dr. R. Bruce Collins was reelected for a second term as president of the Lower Rock Island County Tuberculosis Association.
1964 — 50 years ago: Work is scheduled to begin this summer on construction of a new men's residence complex and an addition to the dining facilities at Westerlin Hall at Augustana College.
1989 — 25 years ago: Special Olympics competitors were triple winners at Rock Island High School Saturday. The participants vanquished the rain that fell during the competition, and some won their events; but most important, they triumphed over their own disabilities.




(More History)