Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak to Quad Cities’

Lawmakers Seek Grant Spending Deadline Extension

June 29, 2019

Illinois lawmakers are asking the U.S. Department of Transportation to extend the deadline for use of a federal grant to establish Amtrak service between Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa.

The letter was sent by Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, as well as Representative Cheri Bustos.

It came on the heels of a commitment by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to revive the efforts to establish the service, which would terminate in Moline, Illinois.

A recent capital funding bill approved by Pritzker and the state legislature allocated $225 million in state funding for the project.

The federal grant was originally awarded in 2010. The City of Moline has since created a station facility for the train and the Illinois Department of Transportation has held discussions with host railroad Iowa Interstate about infrastructure upgrades needed for the service.

Rail Benefits From Illinois Capital Plan

June 4, 2019

The Illinois General Assembly has approved the first capital spending plan in 10 years and intercity rail service is expected to benefit from it.

The legislature approved the plan on Saturday and it is expected to be signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

It includes $2.7 billion for transit and $500 million to fund passenger service on two intercity routes.

This includes $225 million toward establishment of Amtrak service between Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa, and $275 million to develop service between Chicago and Rockford.

Other rail passenger projects funded by the plan include $100 million to extend of Metra service on a BNSF line into Kendall County, and $400 million for CREATE projects designed to alleviate Chicago-area railroad bottlenecks.

Some funding was earmarked for repairs and upgrades at specific Metra stations.

The last capital spending plan in Illinois had been adopted in 2009.

Transportation officials said many projects were delayed due to lack of capital funding.

The latest capital funding bill was approved with bi-partisan support in the legislature.

It also had the support of various business groups including the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association.

Susan Massel, a spokeswoman for the Regional Transportation Authority, said her agency is pleased that $2.7 billion was approved for transit capital funding through bonding.

She also noted that the plan also contains annual, sustainable revenue, or “pay as you go” funding for public transportation capital funding.

To pay for the capital spending, the Illinois motor fuel tax will increase from 19 cents per gallon to 38 cents.

“This is the type of long-term, stable capital funding that public transportation needs and riders deserve to address our long term capital need of $30 billion over the next decade,” Massel told Trains magazine.

Illinois Amtrak Expansion Hinges on Inclusion in Bill

March 29, 2019

The head of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association said that expansion of Amtrak service in Illinois will hinge upon funding for it being included in the state’s capitol bill.

Rick Harnish said a route to the Quad Cities region won’t materialize soon without the funding for capital develop projects on the routes being included in the capital bill.

A Senate subcommittee plans to meet on April 8 at Bradley University in Peoria to discuss what funding requests should be included in the capital bill.

It will also meet in Chicago on April 16 and in Elgin at a date to be announced.

Harnish noted that funding for the Quad Cities route that was approved in a previous session of the Illinois General Assembly will need to be re-appropriated.

New Governor Raises Hopes for Reviving Illinois Service

November 20, 2018

Northern Illinois rail passenger advocates are looking to a new governor to help jump start efforts to reinstate intercity rail passenger service between Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa, and between Chicago and Rockford, Illinois.

J.B. Pritzker recently ousted incumbent Governor Bruce Rauner whose administration had not been supportive of the proposed services, which were announced in 2014.

Also giving supporters hope is a favorable vote on an advisory referendum to create a station in Rockford for the proposed service.

A Rockford area state lawmaker, though, still sees a struggle to get the service going.

“It’s gonna be expensive – it’s gonna be a major effort, and if there’s not the political will to do it locally, then we should not head down that path,” said State Senator Steve Stadelman.

Stadelman, though, called the election of Pritzker a new opportunity.

He said he plans to meet with local leaders to gauge their support for the rail service.

Stadelman noted that the new governor has talked about the importance of transportation infrastructure. “I hope he’s willing to take a look at the idea,” Stadelman said.

During the Nov. 6 election, voters in Rockford and Boone and Winnebago counties gave 79 percent approval to the referendum question.

During the administration of former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, the estimated cost of the proposed service was put at $230 million.

The service would serve a region that has lacked intercity rail service for several decades.

Until 1978, the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific operated a train known as the Quad City Rocket between Chicago and Rock Island, Illinois. That train ran for the final time on Dec. 31.

Amtrak operated the Black Hawk between Chicago and Dubuque, Iowa, between Feb. 17, 1974, and Sept. 30, 1981.

The Black Hawk served Rockford and Freeport and ended during a state budget crunch.

In recent years, the Illinois Department of Transportation has studied reviving Amtrak service to Northwest Illinois using portions of the former Black Hawk and Quad City Rocket routes.

A new station was built in Moline, Illinois, which includes a hotel and shops.

“We’re hoping with the new administration that they’ll put a higher emphasis on passenger rail and keep it moving,” said Ray Forsythe, planning and development director with the City of Moline. We’re pretty excited.”

Funding for the revival of Northwest Illinois intercity rail service was included in the 2009 capital bill, the last one adopted by the Illinois General Assembly.

Lawmakers earmarked $150 million for Amtrak expansion for both the Quad Cities route and service to Dubuque via Rockford, along with money for rail upgrades for the existing line between Chicago and St. Louis.

Initially, the state planned to launch service to Rockford and extend it later to Dubuque.

Service to the Quad Cities was to use a BNSF route already used by other Amtrak trains to Wyanet, Illinois, and then switch to the Iowa Interstate, which owns the former CRI&P tracks.

The Federal Railroad Administration awarded $177.3 million in 2011 to IDOT to complete planning, environmental review, design and construction of the Quad Cities line, with the goal of having two round trips daily.

But Rauner’s inauguration in 2015 resulted in the Northwest Illinois rail service projects being put on hold.

In late 2016, IDOT resumed talks with the Iowa Interstate about using its tracks.

The two parties are discussing track upgrades, including installation of positive train control.

Also on the docket is the connection between the BNSF and Iowa Interstate lines.

However, negotiations with Union Pacific to use its tracks for the Rockford service have not resumed.

IDOT officials have not given a timeline as to when the services might be launched.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the carrier is interested in operating the Rockford and the Quad Cities routes because studies have found both have high potential for passengers.

Officials say that key to getting the routes started will be passage of another capital bill in the legislature.

A spokeswoman for Pritzker said he is committed to “working across the aisle” to get that done so that it can be used to attract federal grant money.

However, rail advocate will be competing for funding with such other infrastructure needs as roads, water systems and transit agencies.

IDOT Seeks Extension on Quad City Route Grant

June 8, 2018

The Illinois Department of Transportation is seeking an extension of time to use a grant to help develop intercity rail passenger service between Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa.

The grant is to expire on June 30 and if the extension is granted it would be the third time the deadline has been moved.

The Federal Railroad Administration has yet to respond to the extension request.

The grant would be used, in part, to build a connection between BNSF and Iowa Interstate tracks near Wyanet, Illinois.

Other improvements are also needed on the 50-mile portion of the Iowa Interstate line to be used, which was once the mainline of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific.

IDOT last year reached a memorandum of understanding with Iowa Interstate to reimburse it for engineering costs associated with determining the necessary track improvements. That work is in progress.

The federal grant to develop the Chicago-Quad cities route was originally awarded in 2010 and included a $230 million federal grant, including $177 million for the connection.

The project was put on holder after Gov. Bruce Rauner took office in 2014. He later approved $45 million in state matching funds to help keep the project alive.

Iowa Passenger Advocates Undaunted in Push to Get Intercity Rail Service to Iowa City, Des Moines

November 28, 2017

Iowa passenger train advocates continue to push for service to Iowa City and Des Moines, but expansion of Amtrak to those cities is unlikely to occur anytime soon.

Officially, the prospect of providing intercity rail passenger service to the home of the University of Iowa (Iowa City) and the capital (Des Moines) remains under study by the Iowa Department of Transportation, but the state legislature thus far has declined to approve funding for the service.

Christopher Krebill of Davenport is the head of the Iowa Association of Railroad Passengers and remains optimistic about the prospects of implementing twice-daily service between Chicago and Iowa City within the next five years.

“I love this state and I love the rail service that we have now,” Krebill told the Des Moines Register. “I believe that having train service in central and northern Iowa, and doubling train service on Amtrak’s current two routes would do great things for Iowa’s transportation network and Iowa companies and people.”

The proposed service to Iowa City would serve the Quad Cities region of Iowa and Illinois and was being pushed for a time by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The service was projected to draw 187,000 passengers annually. A federal grant of $230 million has funded earlier studies of the proposed service.

Although a 2015 start-up date was eyed, Iowa lawmakers would not approve that state’s share of the funding, estimated at $20 million plus annual grants for operating expenses.

Many Iowa legislators argued that if passenger trains are viable they should be operated by the private sector.

The proposed Amtrak service to Iowa City was expected to eventually be extended to Des Moines and Omaha.

At one time, rail service operated via Iowa City and Des Moines on the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad.

Amtrak has never operated scheduled passenger trains to Iowa City, which lost passenger rail service in 1970. Des Moines has been without passenger trains since May 31, 1970, when the Rock Island’s Cornbelt Rocket was discontinued there.

The Rock Island continued passenger service to the Quad Cities from Chicago until 1978.

Those former Rock Island rails are now owned by the Iowa Interstate Railroad and would be used within Iowa for the Chicago-Iowa City route.

Iowa is currently served by two Amtrak long-distance trains, the California Zephyr between Chicago and Emeryville, California; and the Southwest Chief between Chicago and Los Angeles.

The Chief’s only stop in Iowa is at Fort Madison while the Zephyr serves the Iowa cities of Burlington, Mount Pleasant, Ottumwa, Osceola and Creston.

In fiscal year 2017, Amtrak had ridership of 60,585 passengers, which was a decline of 1.3 percent when compared with FY2015. Amtrak’s high water ridership mark in Iowa occurred in 2010 when it carried 68,744.

During the administration of Gov. Chet Culver, Iowa officials examined the Chicago-Iowa City proposal in 2010.

Jim Larew, who was policy director and chief legal counsel to Culver, still believes that the route would be appealing to such key demographic groups as college students, young professionals and older Iowans.

“My own view is that this is just a matter of when, not if,” Larew said. “The model will always fit to have passenger rail service from Chicago to Iowa City, and then over to Des Moines and possibly Omaha.”

The Iowa Department of Transportation continues to work on preliminary engineering and environmental studies of proposed rail passenger service between the Quad Cities and Iowa City on the Iowa Interstate Railroad’s tracks, said Amanda Martin, the agency’s railroad passenger and freight policy coordinator. She said that work is expected to continue into 2018.

In Illinois, that state’s DOT was able to get an extension of the federal grant until June 2018.

Kelsea Gurski, IDOT’s bureau chief of communications services, said that will enable the agency to continue working with the Iowa Interstate Railroad on preliminary engineering studies that will determine the full scope of improvements necessary to host passenger trains between Wyanet and Moline, Illinois.

“A timeline for the overall project will be ready once these studies are completed and construction and service agreements are in place with the Iowa Interstate Railroad,” Gurski said.

Current Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has not yet taken a position on expanded passenger rail service in Iowa, said Brenna Smith, Reynolds’ spokeswoman.

Smith said it’s too soon to begin discussing state funding because the Iowa DOT’s studies are still underway.

State Sen. Matt McCoy of Des Moines continues to advocate for passenger trains to the state capital and sees a potential opportunity if a much talked about federal infrastructure program comes to fruition.

“That doesn’t mean that Iowa will participate in a state share of money for the project, but I get the feeling that Illinois would at least bring the train to the Quad Cities. Then it would be up to us to determine if we want it to go any further,” he said.

In its most recent report on FY2017, Amtrak said ridership figures for Iowa stations were: Burlington: 8,430; Mount Pleasant: 13,736; Ottumwa: 12,209; Osceola: 15,752; Creston: 3,797; and Fort Madison: 6,661.

FRA Extends Deadline for Quad Cities Grant

September 23, 2016

The Federal Railroad Administration has agreed to extend the deadline for the state of Illinois to use grant money toward establishment of intercity rail passenger service between Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa.

IDOTThe $177 million grant was awarded to the Illinois Department of Transportation.

IDOT will now have until Sept. 30, 2017. The deadline had been June 30.

State officials said much work remains to be done to introduce service to the route, which last had rail service in the late 1978 that was provided by the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad between Chicago and Rock Island, Illinois.

That service was funded in part by the state but suffered from low patronage and poor tracks.

The grant to establish Chicago-Quad Cities was awarded in 2010.

Quad Cities Station Project to Continue

September 2, 2016

Optimistic about the prospect of intercity rail passenger service coming in the future, developers are moving ahead with plans to build a $35 million multi-modal station and hotel in Moline, Illinois.

Amtrak 4The facility will be known as “The Q” and will include an extended-stay hotel, restaurants and shops.

The O’Rourke Building will house the station-hotel-shopping complex.

The State of Illinois has released about $5 million to help fund the program, but the state has yet to commit to spending $177 million to pay for Amtrak service between Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa.

Quad City officials acknowledged there is no timeline for the development of the rail service, but believe it won’t happen before 2018.

Illinois to Press Ahead with Quad Cities Project

June 23, 2016

Faced with a deadline to use or lose a federal grant, Illinois officials are pressing ahead with a campaign to restore passenger train service between Chicago and the Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa.

IDOTThe Federal Railroad Administration had awarded more than $170 million in 2010 to get the service going. That grant expires on June 30 if it is not used.

The FRA said it has been notified that the Illinois Department of Transportation wants to move ahead on the project and plans to submit a grant amendment.

Moline Mayor Optimistic About Amtrak Service

February 23, 2016

Moline (Illinois) Mayor Scott Raes is still optimistic that Amtrak service will eventually come to the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa, but said making it happen by 2017 is going to be tough to pull off.

Raes said in his state of the city address that development of the Chicago-Quad Cities route has stalled due to a state budget stalemate. IllinoisThe Illinois General Assembly and Gov. Bruce Rauner are at odd over a budget for the current fiscal year.

The mayor noted that work has begun on renovating a hotel that will serve as the station for the route. That project is being funded by a federal TIGER grant.

But rebuilding the tracks to be used by the trains has yet to begin and the project is behind schedule.

“It does get frustrating because there are three players in this project,” Raes said. “One of the things we’re approaching now is we have to build the platform out to meet the [passenger] cars and until we know the height of the tracks, we don’t know where to go.”

Although the service was supposed to start in early 2017, that seems unlikely.

“I think it will be quite a challenge to hit the 2017 [target] although that’s certainly what we’re hoping for,” Raes said. “But, when you look realistically at where the project’s at, I think that would be a stretch.”

Raes doesn’t expect the state to give up on the project, saying the Illinois Department of Transportation is on board and its leaders are trying to work with the governor and lawmakers to make sure Amtrak and other transportation projects move forward.

“We can’t wait,” Raes said. “I think it will be a great revenue source.”