Feds give no money for passenger rail to Iowa City

The Des Moines Register's William Petroski reports today that the Obama administration declined requests for federal money to support Amtrak routes between Chicago and Iowa City and between Chicago and Dubuque.

A list of grants issued Wednesday night by the White House shows that Iowa will receive only $18 million in federal railroad passenger money. This includes $1 million to study a proposed passenger train that would run daily between Chicago and Omaha, including stops in the Quad Cities, Iowa City and Des Moines.

The remaining $17 million will be used to install four remote- controlled powered crossovers on the BNSF Railway tracks in the Ottumwa area. This will reduce travel times and improve on-time performance on Amtrak's existing California Zephyr train that runs across southern Iowa, federal officials said.

Iowa and Illinois officials had sought $256 million in federal funds for the Chicago to Iowa City route, which would go through the Quad Cities, and $139 million for the Chicago to Dubuque route.

Dubuque and the Quad Cities may get passenger rail despite today's disappointing news:

Even without the federal money, Illinois officials expect to begin Amtrak service between Chicago and Dubuque and Chicago and the Quad Cities, possibly within two years, officials said. That's because Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a $31 billion capital construction package last year to ensure the rail expansion.

But the federal grants would have bolstered both projects and would have assured the extension of the train service to Iowa City, and possibly eventually to Des Moines, officials said.

A feasibility study from 2008 showed promising numbers for an Amtrak route connecting Iowa City to the Quad Cities. A huge number of University of Iowa students are from the Chicago area, and many people living in that region of Iowa travel to Chicago for business or entertainment.

In comments to the Des Moines Reigster, Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba predicted yesterday that the Chicago to Iowa City train would receive some federal funding by 2013, even if the current grant request was denied. I hope he turns out to be right.

UPDATE: Governor Chet Culver's response to this news is after the jump.

Statement from the governor's office:

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Governor Culver Voices Optimism for Passenger Rail Development in Iowa

DES MOINES - Governor Chet Culver expressed his support for the decision by the Obama Administration to improve passenger rail service in Iowa by funding improvements for existing Amtrak service through southern Iowa and for supporting a feasibility study to initiate new passenger rail service from Chicago to Omaha.

The Governor also expressed his disappointment that applications for proposed new routes from Iowa City to Chicago and Dubuque to Chicago did not receive funding while predicting that these routes, when developed, will prove to both popular with the traveling public and among the most cost-effective new passenger rail services in the nation.

"I want to thank the Obama Administration for selecting Iowa to receive two high-speed passenger rail grants worth approximately $18 million.  This will help to improve passenger rail service on existing Amtrak lines in southern Iowa while allowing us to study passenger rail expansion through central Iowa," the Governor said.  "These represent additional steps in our efforts to expand passenger rail in Iowa, and to revitalize passenger rail services throughout the Upper Midwest."

"At the same time," the Governor stated, "I am disappointed that the US DOT did not fund the Chicago to Iowa City and the Chicago to Dubuque proposals. These are sound projects that will help the people of this state, and with the work we have already done, we will be competitive for future rounds of funding.  I am confident that an expanded passenger rail system is in Iowa's future, and the Culver/Judge Administration will continue to work directly with members of our congressional delegation, with Illinois officials and with the Obama Administration to get this done."

  • On the bright side...

    Even without the Iowa City extension I'm pretty excited for Davenport to Chicago rail.  As it is now I drive to Aurora and take Metra for tourist weekends in Chicago.  Hopefully enough Iowa Citians will hop on the train in Davenport that it will lend some credence to the feasibility numbers.  A well-timed IC-QC bus link would be helpful.

    • yes, a bus link would be helpful

      and shouldn't be hard to accomplish if the train leaves a couple of times a day.

    • Bus service

      economics are often a lot better than rail service.  It's so much cheaper.  But not as sexy.

      • also true

        when I lived in New York I took the express bus to Boston many times. It was just as fast as the train and cheaper, though not as comfortable.

  • While disappointing....

    ....it's not surprising. IC to Chicago would have been nice but not necessary. I think we should use this to refocus our efforts on promoting a fast train service from Omaha to Chicago. Hop on a train in Omaha and 4.5 hours (average 110 mph) later you're in Chicago.  

    • it's not a high-speed rail route

      If they approve Omaha to Chicago, the top speed will not exceed 90 mph. It won't be much faster than driving, but I would still prefer it (you can read/do work on the train and not have to worry about parking in Chicago).

  • Amtrak

    We just took the Zypher back from San Francisco.  The attendent told us the top speed on their lines is 79 mph.  We enjoy train travel and would like to see expanded rail to Iowa City.  With the twice a day service Iowa City to Chicago it would make train travel more feasable from the eastern United States.  Now if you want to go west from Chicago you have to wait until the Zephyer leaves Chicago at 2 pm.

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