The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded $230 million in federal funding today for a new Amtrak route connecting Chicago and Iowa City, Senators Tom Harkin and Dick Durbin announced. The route will go through the Quad Cities. From a statement released by Harkin's office:
The project - scheduled for completion in 2015 - will create 588 jobs per year for the first four years of design and construction. Once initiated, the new service is expected to increase business activity at $25 million per year. [...]
The new Chicago - Quad Cities - Iowa City route will provide two daily round-trips and carry trains traveling at speeds up to 79 miles per hour (mph) with an expected trip time of less than 5 hours. The long-term vision for the line includes expanding the frequency of trains to offer more than two daily round-trip trains; extending the route; and making additional infrastructure investments to increase speeds from 79 mph to 90 mph, or even 110 mph.
Today's news is a pleasant surprise. Although Governor Chet Culver and several members of Congress strongly advocated for expanding passenger rail in Iowa, the U.S. Department of Transportation did not fund an earlier grant request supporting Amtrak routes between Chicago and Iowa City and Chicago and Dubuque.
A 2008 Amtrak feasibility study on passenger rail from Iowa City to the Quad Cities estimated annual ridership on the route at "about 187,000 passengers, based on two daily round-trips and if improvements are made allowing maximum speeds of 79 mph." Typical passenger trains reach maximum speeds of 79 mph; anything faster than 110 mph is considered "high-speed rail."
More details on today's announced funding are in the full statement from Harkin's office, which I've posted after the jump. The Quad-City Rail Coalition website has additional background information on the proposed route. Central Iowa business and political leaders hope a Chicago-Iowa City passenger rail link could eventually be extended through Des Moines to the Council Bluffs-Omaha metro area.
UPDATE: I've added a press release from the governor's office with more details. It states that first-year ridership on the route between Iowa City and Chicago is projected at 246,800.
TUESDAY UPDATE: Senator Chuck Grassley also expressed support for this passenger rail link: "You're finding a situation where, connected with the problems of Homeland Security, the problems of terrorists on airplanes, the fact that airlines are having trouble providing the service they used to provide, alternative service like rail service is something that, at least on a regional basis, is going to pay off."