Posts Tagged ‘Iowa City Amtrak route’

Falling Ridership Doesn’t Deter Iowa Rail Advocates

November 26, 2018

Despite falling Amtrak ridership in the state, Iowa rail passenger advocates are pressing ahead with proposals for additional service.

The advocates have been pushing for intercity rail service to Iowa City and Des Moines, both cities that have never had rail passenger service in the Amtrak era.

The last trains to those cities were operated by the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific and had been discontinued before Amtrak began operations on May 1, 1971.

The last train to Des Moines was the May 31, 1970, trip of the Corn Belt Rocket between Chicago and Council Bluffs, Iowa. The Rock Island continued passenger trains through late 1978 between Chicago and Rock Island, Illinois.

The Iowa Association of Railroad Passengers wants to see new routes established between Chicago and Omaha via Des Moines and Iowa City; and a Minneapolis/St. Paul-Kansas City route via Des Moines.

Since 1981, Iowa’s only intercity passenger service has been to the southern third of the state where Amtrak stops at six stations.

Five of those stations are served by the Chicago-Emeryville California Zephyr while a sixth station, Fort Madison, is a stop for the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Between 1974 and 1981, Amtrak’s Black Hawk originated and terminated in Dubuque, Iowa.

That service was largely paid for by the State of Illinois, which funded it to East Dubuque, Illinois.

But the lack of service facilities in East Dubuque resulted in the train crossing the Mississippi River to Dubuque.

Ridership figures provided by Amtrak show that 57,955 boarded its trains in Iowa during fiscal year 2018, which ended Sept. 20.

That’s a decline of more than 4 percent from FY 2017 and nearly 16 percent off Iowa’s record year for Amtrak ridership of 68,744 in 2010.

During FY 2018, Amtrak said ridership in Iowa by station was Burlington, 8,668; Mount Pleasant, 12,584; Ottumwa: 11,043; Osceola, 16,064; Creston, 3,745; and Fort Madison, 5,891.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told the Des Moines Register  that problems with on-time performance and stable gasoline prices at less than $3 a gallon have probably hurt Amtrak ridership in Iowa.

“Our competition, for the most part, is driving, and as people buy newer cars that get better mileage, part of me wonders if people aren’t finding themselves driving because their cars are higher performing than they were 10 years ago,” Magliari said.

The Iowa Department of Transportation said traffic volume on the state’s highways has risen in recent years as use of public transportation has fallen.

Christopher Krebill, interim president of the Iowa Association of Railroad Passengers, argues that Amtrak also is to blame for falling ridership.

He said the passenger carrier has removed all of its ticket agents from Iowa.

“There are still people who come into the station wanting to buy a ticket and who maybe have never ridden Amtrak before,” Krebill said. “When there is no ticket agent, there is really no one there to answer questions and tell people how to get on a train and where to get on a train.”

Landing additional trains is likely to Iowa going to require state funding, which might be a hard sell.

Iowa policy makers have rebuffed previous proposals to fund service to the state from Chicago, including extending the Black Hawk west of Dubuque.

In the meantime, Illinois officials have resumed work toward creating new services that will come close to Iowa, including a Chicago-Quad Cities route and a resumption of service on the former Black Hawk route.

Krebill said there is interest in Iowa in passenger rail, especially in central Iowa, but that will require support from the state’s department of transportation and state legislators.

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.

Cost of Proposed Iowa City Route Are Rising

December 21, 2013

Finances are the latest hurdle that is hindering development of Amtrak service to Iowa City, Iowa.

Iowa officials have been studying an extension of a planned Chicago-Quad Cities route to Iowa City, which is the home of the University of Iowa.

The construction cost estimate is now $125 million, up $35 million from three years ago. The study also found that the ongoing operating subsidy requirement has shrunk dramatically.

Iowa’s share to get the route stated is now estimated at $72 million, which is triple what was proposed three years ago.

Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba called the results of the study “a huge embarrassment. Somehow Illinois’s getting this done [Chicago-Quad Cities service] and Iowa’s dragging its feet,” he said.

Iowa is in danger of losing $53 million in federal funding for the route development if the state legislature does not move forward in the next legislative session with developing the route.