116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY - If Johnson County residents want to hop a train from North Liberty to Iowa City, that kind of passenger rail service could cost about $40 million to build out.
That's according to a 2016 feasibility study of passenger rail service between the two communities, which was provided this week to The Gazette.
Jeff Woods, manager of marketing and business development with the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railway, or CRANDIC, said there still is much to do before passenger rail becomes a potential reality, but the study - the second in recent years on regional passenger rail along CRANDIC rail lines - does bring that goal closer and shows that such an offering can have an attainable price tag.
'The Phase 2 study certainly affirms that the overall capital costs associated with the project are not billions of dollars, and that's encouraging,” Woods said. 'I think it keeps it on the table ... it's certainly a number that doesn't scare anybody away, I don't think.”
The feasibility study, completed by HDR of Omaha, also found an intercity passenger rail service - spanning 7.1 miles of CRANDIC railroad - would cost about $1.4 million annually in 2016 dollars to operate and maintain.
Phase 1 of the study looked at the feasibility of a 20.5-mile passenger rail service from Gilbert Street in Iowa City to The Eastern Iowa Airport. That study estimated a service called Commuter Rail Transit, the cheapest option, at $250 million to $520 million, with annual operations and maintenance between $5.6 and $6.7 million in 2015 dollars. A streetcar model could cost up to $1.64 billion, according to the study.
The type of service detailed in Phase 2 would include diesel-powered coach railcars - which can carry about 75 to 90 passengers a piece - that would travel back and forth from a Forevergreen Road stop in North Liberty to an Iowa City stop near Gilbert Street. The study also details four additional stops; one near the University of Iowa's Oakdale campus; another in Coralville; one near the Iowa City Veterans Affairs Hospital; and one near Iowa City's Burlington Street.
Trains would not exceed 40 mph and a full trip from one end of the route to the other would take about 30 minutes, according to the study. The service would operate from 6 a.m. to 7:45 p.m., with a total of eight trips in each direction throughout the day.
Woods said future studies might look into ridership and revenue estimates, as well as the socioeconomic benefits passenger rail might offer communities.
But the first step will require additional communication between CRANDIC, the Iowa Department of Transportation and local entities including the Metropolitan Planning Organization of Johnson County, said Amanda Martin, freight and passenger policy coordinator with the Iowa DOT's Office of Rail.
Meanwhile, another study of the larger corridor area surrounding Interstate 380 between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids may also factor into future passenger rail discussion.
That study, being carried out by the Iowa DOT, focuses on congestion on I-380 and how future projects in the area - including passenger rail or even autonomous cars - impact overall traffic flows.
'Obviously commuter rail, passenger rail, you can't make that overnight,” Martin said. 'So if it did go forward ... we want to know in the future, would there be traffic diverted from one system to the other as we design our infrastructure?”
In addition, the DOT study, which is in its early stages, will take into account the five-year, $300 million overhaul planned for the I-380/Interstate 80 interchange, which kicks off in 2019.
'As the studies move forward, there are going to be construction activities that occur, those obviously impact the public,” Martin said.
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