More promising signs for passenger rail in Iowa

This Sunday Governor Chet Culver is taking a train tour to promote passenger rail in eastern Iowa, similar to the trip he took through western Iowa last month. After the jump I’ve posted a news release from the governor’s office with details on his planned stops in Iowa City, West Liberty, Durant, Walcott and Moline, Illinois, where the Quad Cities’ passenger rail depot will be located. From there Culver will travel to Chicago for the Midwest High Speed Rail Summit on Monday.

The U.S. has ten high-speed rail corridors, and Business Week reported earlier this summer that the Midwestern and California corridors are well-positioned to receive some of the $8 billion in stimulus funds allocated for high-speed rail. A Federal Railroad Administration official spoke favorably of cooperation among eight midwestern governors, including Culver.

Competition for the stimulus rail funding will be stiff. The T4America blog reported last week that 40 states submitted a combined $102 billion in high-speed rail proposals for the $8 billion in stimulus funds. The overwhelming response from states prompted the House Appropriations Committee to allocate $4 billion toward high-speed rail in the coming year. The Obama administration had asked for $1 billion.

The Culver administration deserves praise for recognizing the benefits of passenger rail routes through Iowa to Chicago. The I-JOBS program included $3 million for expanding passenger rail service, and Iowa also has allocated a portion of our transportation funds from the stimulus bill to rail. These investments will help secure future federal funding for the projects. Rail links will benefit many Iowans who cannot drive (including a growing number of senior citizens) as well as those who prefer not to drive or fly.

Iowa Republicans may mock Culver’s commitment to passenger rail, but governors from both parties recognize the economic benefits that strong rail networks can bring. Those who argue that we cannot afford to invest in passenger rail during an economic recession should read this piece by BruceMcF, one of the best transportation bloggers around.

UPDATE: From the Iowa Global Warming Campaign:

Call Tom Latham NOW and tell him to support Passenger Rail in Iowa. He is trying to strip $3billion! 202-225-5476

LATE UPDATE: From Friday’s Des Moines Register:

Plans for a study needed to revive Des Moines-to-Chicago passenger train service have been put on a side track at least until next year, state officials say.

But Amtrak passenger train service to Dubuque and the Quad Cities appears likely in about two years.

Amtrak had been expected to complete a feasibility study sometime this year for twice-daily train service between Des Moines and Chicago. But the railroad has been deluged with requests for studies elsewhere in the wake of a national push to expand passenger train service, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said in Chicago.

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As a result, Amtrak won’t finish the Des Moines study until money issues are resolved to ensure service between Chicago and Iowa City, Magliari said. An Amtrak report in 2008 suggested an Iowa City passenger train could start operating if about $32 million could be obtained to upgrade Iowa tracks and signals. […]

Iowa Department of Transportation Director Nancy Richardson said this week she hopes money issues for the Iowa City train can be resolved by early next year, which would permit work to completed on the Des Moines train study. The state agency is seeking federal economic-stimulus money for the Iowa City project.

Release from Governor Chet Culver’s office:

Governor Chet Culver’s Iowa Unlimited is on the move again, this time with stops in Eastern Iowa on Sunday, July 26.  Designed to raise awareness of passenger rail, the train will make stops in Iowa City, West Liberty, Durant, and Walcott before crossing the Mississippi and holding an event in Moline at the future site of the Quad Cities’ passenger rail depot.

“Restoring passenger rail service is one of the Culver-Judge Administration’s top transportation priorities,” said Governor Culver.  “Reconnecting some of our largest cities to Chicago will add to Iowa’s economic success, and as Governor I look forward to working with all Iowans to expand passenger rail throughout the state.”

Following the stops on Sunday, the Iowa Unlimited will continue to Chicago where Governor Culver will participate in the Midwest High Speed Rail Summit on Monday. The meeting is designed to further efforts to make Chicago a regional passenger rail hub, with lines radiating from the city to communities in other states. Participants will discuss with the Obama Administration ways to utilize Federal Recovery funds to expand passenger rail service throughout the Midwest.

As part of the sessions with other Governors, Governor Culver is also expected to sign a memorandum of understanding with Illinois Governor Pat Quinn on two proposed passenger rail lines – Chicago to Dubuque and Chicago to Iowa City.  Current proposals call for the expansion of the Chicago-to-Iowa City route to Des Moines and points further west.

Traveling with the Governor on Sunday will be state transportation officials, advocates for passenger rail, and community leaders. Congressman David Loebsack will travel from Iowa City to Moline, and Amtrak Board of Directors Chairman Tom Carper will ride with the Governor to the Summit in Chicago from Moline.

Efforts have been taken in recent years to bring passenger rail service back to portions of the state, with current proposals to bring service to Dubuque, the Quad Cities and Iowa City and longer term plans to bring service to other communities such as Des Moines and Council Bluffs.

To help spur efforts, Governor Culver’s signature legislative accomplishment – the I-JOBS Initiative — includes $10 million for multi-modal transportation projects in Iowa, including $3 million for expanded passenger rail service in the state.  In addition, the Iowa Department of Transportation will be competing for federal passenger rail funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.  All of these steps position Iowa to work with Illinois and Amtrak to bring new passenger rail lines to the state that connect more Iowa communities with Chicago.

Governor Culver’s Iowa Unlimited is being provided thanks to the generous efforts of the Iowa Interstate Railroad, Ltd.

Below is the timetable for the Iowa Unlimited.

12:00pm Governor Culver’s Iowa Unlimited Send Off Event Old Rock Island Depot, 119 Wright Street, Iowa City

1:26pm     Governor Culver’s Iowa Unlimited stops in West Liberty, The Depot, 405 North Elm Street

2:26pm     Governor Culver’s Iowa Unlimited Stops in Durant, Pythian Sisters Park, Main Street

3:06pm     Governor Culver’s Iowa Unlimited Stops in Walcott, on the tracks (near 103 S. Main)

4:21pm     Governor Culver’s Iowa Unlimited stops in Moline, Center Station, 1200 River Drive

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