Hopes to bring passenger rail service from Chicago to Iowa City and eventually to Des Moines and Council Bluffs appear to be dead. For the last three years, State Senator Matt McCoy tried to secure state matching funds for a federal passenger rail grant, citing many possible economic benefits to Iowa. Both Governor Terry Branstad and Iowa House Republicans have opposed allocating funds toward new passenger rail. Speaking to the Sunday Des Moines Register's William Petroski, McCoy blamed Iowa House Republicans, not the governor, for killing the project. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen told the Register that his caucus did not see the project as a "wise investment."
I've posted excerpts from yesterday's story after the jump. Neither McCoy nor Paulsen mentioned that the Iowa House speaker works for a trucking company. The trucking industry generally opposes improvements to rail infrastructure. Paulsen's closed mind on passenger rail is one reason I was disappointed when he decided against running for Congress.
UPDATE: Added new comments from Branstad after the jump.
Excerpt from William Petroski's article for the Sunday Des Moines Register, "McCoy gives up on train funds."
McCoy, a leading advocate of rail service to Des Moines, said that after three years of failed efforts to win House GOP support for the project, he is calling it quits. [...]
"I am prepared to pronounce it dead and claim that it is the House Republicans who absolutely killed it. It wasn't the governor. It was the House Republicans," McCoy said. "I think that we will have to forfeit the federal money and be done with it. I dread it, but I don't see anybody working the issue any more. The advocates have given up. [...] "
Illinois and Iowa were jointly awarded a $230 million federal grant for the project in October 2010 while Chet Culver, a Democrat, was Iowa's governor. The money was part of a $10 billion program by President Barack Obama's administration to stimulate the economy and develop a national network of high-speed passenger trains.
Iowa's share was initially pegged at $87 million to help establish a 79 mph train service between the Quad Cities and Iowa City, while the Illinois Department of Transportation proposed to use its share to develop service between Chicago and the Quad Cities. However, Iowa's grant has since been reduced to $53 million, Iowa DOT officials said last week.
The sticking point with House Republicans for each of the past three legislative sessions has been a need to approve about $20 million in state money to help launch Iowa City train service. In addition, Iowa DOT officials had estimated an Iowa City train would require operating subsidies of about $3 million annually. The train would offer twice-daily, round-trip service between Iowa City and Chicago with a projected annual ridership of 246,800 people.
UPDATE: Branstad commented on October 21,
"I know that there has been considerable skepticism whether or not this would be feasible," Branstad told reporters at his weekly Statehouse news conference. He also noted that Iowa is already served by an Amtrak train passing across southern Iowa, and that Republican governors in other states have rejected federal money to expand passenger rail service, determining it was not a good investment.
But the Iowa DOT is still working on a study that examines the development of passenger rail service in the entire corridor between Chicago and Omaha, Neb., Branstad noted. The corridor includes Davenport, Iowa City, Grinnell, Newton, Des Moines, Atlantic and Council Bluffs.
DOT officials said the study is nearing completion, although they are not sure it will be finished by the time the Iowa Legislature convenes in January. Branstad, a Republican, said he wants a "full recommendation" from DOT officials before deciding whether to cancel plans for the train by returning $53 million awarded to Iowa by the Federal Railroad Administration in October 2010 to help establish its share of the Chicago-to-Iowa City passenger rail service.
That's much less negative than previous statements suggesting Branstad opposed any passenger rail plan that involved an ongoing subsidy from the state.