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Freight was the focus of discussion Tuesday at the Iowa Ideas transportation symposium in Davenport.
To kick things off, attendees tried to describe Iowa’s transportation network in one word, using a mix of examples such as “insufficient and challenging” to “opportunistic and pivotal.”
Then, Diane McCauley, policy analyst with the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Office of Rail Transportation, gave a presentation on the state of Iowa’s rail industry.
The presentation included a plethora of statistics and history on Iowa’s rail industry. For example, railroads began operating in the state in about the 1840s, with lines peaking around 1910 with more than 10,000 miles of track. By 2015, it had reduced to a little more than 3,800 miles in the state.
McCauley described the industry as “right sized,” but added that rail nationwide faces challenges with funding, capacity and keeping up with technology.
With all railroads in Iowa privately owned, the industry sees limited financial aid from state and federal sources, but is subject to sometimes hindering regulations.
McCauley said a mix of good regulations and innovation will be needed to help keep the industry not just moving, but thriving.
“It’s important that the rail system stays intact, for Iowa’s sake,” she said.
Following the railroad presentation, Amy Lasack, senior director of Corporate Training for Kirkwood Community College, sat down with attendees for a Q&A session on Iowa’s trucking industry, which too faces challenges and opportunities.
The biggest challenge by far, she said, is a massive shortage of drivers.
Lasack said the shortage has been caused by a mix issues, including a growing need for drivers driven by e-commerce, increased retirement among older drivers and a lack of young individuals interested in entering the field. The average student in Kirkwood’s program is in their mid-40s.
“It’s kind of been a perfect storm,” she said.
The four-week Kirkwood truck driving program, which certifies students to operate a truck safely and competently, tries to bridge the gap between employers and prospective employees.
Following the presentations, attendees brainstormed the challenges faced by Iowa’s transportation network, but also ways that network could become more successful.
Challenges included aging roads, negative perceptions or stigmas and regulations. Meanwhile, a successful network was perceived as one that is sustainable, accessible and provides seamless transportation.
Leverage points in achieving such goals included reaching out to legislators, building a better image and innovation that forces change.