116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The first train won't arrive for about five years, but supporters of rail passenger service were excited by today's announcement of $230 million in federal funding to reinstate service between Iowa City and Chicago.
“We have a big celebration planned” for Tuesday's formal announcement by Gov. Chet Culver, said Nancy Quellhorst, president and CEO of the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce.
Culver announced this morning in Cedar Rapids that the Federal Railroad Administration had approved $230 million under its High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail program for the Iowa City-Chicago project. Iowa and Illinois had sought $248 million.
“I couldn't be more proud of the fact that we were awarded this incredibly exciting opportunity to bring high-speed rail back to Iowa City and the Corridor,” Culver said during a Rotary Club appearance.
Culver and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will appear at 10 a.m. at the Iowa City chamber office, 325 E. Washington St.
Quellhorst said the project will bring new life to the neighborhood around the circa-1898 depot at 119 Wright St. Plans call for the city to buy the station, now housing law offices, and remodel it for use by the new service.
”There's potential for a new gateway into Iowa City,” she said. “When people disembark from the train, they'll be able to walk downtown.”
Interim City Manager Dale Helling said talks with the depot's owner had been on hold pending a funding announcement.
“Once we sort through (the FRA grant) and see what the money will fund, we'll move on from there,” said Helling. “Using that as the local depot is still very much on the front burner - it has a lot of support in the community.”
The total cost of the project is expected to be $310 million, with Iowa and Illinois splitting the balance. Illinois has committed $45 million toward the route's Chicago-Moline leg. The Iowa Legislature has appropriated $11.5 million for planning and early work through 2012, with another $20 million pending, according to Tammy Nicholson, director of the Iowa Department of Transportation's office of rail transportation.
Although the FRA defines “high-speed rail” as operating at 110 mph or faster, the new service will begin with a 79-mph speed limit. The Iowa Department of Transportation's feasibility study predicted two round trips daily at that speed will draw 246,800 riders a year.
In addition to cars and locomotives for the new trains, the money will fund improvements to track and signal systems along the Iowa Interstate Railroad and a connection between the Iowa Interstate and BNSF Railway at Wyanet, Ill.
Most Amtrak trains are operated over tracks owned by private freight-hauling railroads – in this case, the BNSF between Chicago and Wyanet, the Iowa Interstate beyond.
“We feel confident that our company can accommodate these extra trains in a safe manner and allow for them to operate on time and without delay,” Iowa Interstate president and CEO Dennis Miller said in a statement issued by the Cedar Rapids-based railroad.
With 10 states submitting $7.8 billion in requests for $2.1 billion in available funding, the Iowa/Illinois application stressed environmental and energy concerns, with backers dubbing it the “Green Line.”
“I'm proud of the fact this will be called the Green Line because we're focusing on renewable energy – soy lubricate, for example, biodiesel, perhaps, to power locomotives, paperless ticketing, LEED certified depots,” Culver said. ” That was all part of our application.”
Quellhorst said the new service should find riders among the University of Iowa's 6,000 students from the Chicago area and to sports fans and patients at the university's medical facilities.
“The population at the University of Iowa has incrsased in the past couple of years, so I think the enthusiasm will only continue to escalate” as the projected 2015 start-up date nears, Quellhorst said.
“This is just going to open the front porch of Iowa,” Culver said in Cedar Rapids. ”It will give another terrific, low-cost transportation option. It will get some vehicles off I-80. It will open up this whole corridor.”