Posts Tagged ‘Iowa Interstate Railroad’

Development Continues on New Illinois Routes

February 15, 2020

Illinois Department of Transportation officials are continuing planning work to launch Amtrak service from Chicago to Rockford and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa but much work remains to be completed.

IDOT is seeking to hire a consultant to help manage the projects.

Guy Tridgell, an IDOT spokesman, said planning for service to Rockford is in the early stages.

He said environmental studies need to be completed on the Rockford route along with preliminary engineering and final design before the route can be implemented.

Trains to Rockford are expected to use Metra’s Milwaukee District West Line to Elgin and use a Union Pacific route to Rockford via Huntley and Belvidere.

As for the Quad City route, IDOT has been negotiating with the Iowa Interstate Railroad over infrastructure improvements needed to accommodate two daily round trip passenger trains.

IDOT has reportedly decided to name the service the Quad Cities Rocket.

That name was used by a former Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific passenger train between Chicago and Rock Island, Illinois, that operated until late 1978.

The Quad Cities service would use 50 miles of IAIS track to Moline, Illinois. The rest of the route would use BNSF tracks with a connection to IAIS at Wyanet.

The BNSF route is used by Amtrak’s California Zephyr, Southwest Chief, Carl Sandburg and Illinois Zephyr trains.

A $45 billion capital bill approved last year by the Illinois General Assembly earmarked

$225 million for service to the Quad Cities and $275 million for service to Rockford.

The proposed services have been discussed for several years but were given much lower priority during the administration of former Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Steam Excursions: Iowa Interstate to Run Steam in 2019, UP Might Continue Steam Program Beyond Next Year

December 4, 2018

The Iowa Interstate has announced that it will operate steam excursions in 2019 to benefit an Iowa volunteer fire department in Menlo.

The Iowa excursions will run on June 29 and are expected to be pulled by QJ-type 2-10-2 No. 6988.

The parent company of the regional railroad, Railroad Development Corporation, owns two Chinese-built steamers, neither of which has operated since 2012.

Iowa Interstate also has said there will be a second QJ operation next summer.
Tickets are priced at $14 for adults, $7 for children 12 and under and can be purchased by calling 641-524-536 or writing to Train Ride, 517 7th Street, Menlo, Iowa, 50164.

In related development, Union Pacific’s CEO has signaled that although the future of his railroad’s steam program is uncertain, it may continue it beyond 2019.

“We’re not sure. But right now, nothing,” Lance Fritz told Trains magazine when asked about the future of the program.

Fritz noted UP will operate several steam trips in 2019. “After that, there’s no sacred cow but I don’t have any plan to do anything different than what we’re doing right now,” he said.

Questions about the programs future have arisen because the railroad is seeking to reduce its expenses and is shifting operating to the precision scheduled railroading model.
Fritz acknowledged the steam program generates a lot of positive attention for the railroad but much of it comes from railfans.

“The question is: Is that a big value add versus what’s required to maintain it. It’s not that big of an asset burden. So it’s not like the math is complex. But we’re not even worried about that math right now. For 2019 we’ve got a big program.”

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.

Rail Work to Begin on Quad Cities Route

August 6, 2014

Iowa Interstate Railroad will begin signal system design work and tie replacement on 53 miles of track as a step toward instituting intercity rail passenger service between Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa.

The work wil be done between Wyanet and Moline, Ill. Construction also is expected to begin in September on another part of the 162-mile route at the BNSF Railway’s Eola Yards in Aurora, Ill., state officials said.

“This agreement is another significant milestone in re-establishing passenger service between two great Illinois cities,” said acting Illinois Transportation Secretary Erica Borggren in a statement.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based IAIS is part of Pittsburgh-based Railroad Development Corp., owner of several short lines; its founder, Henry Posner III, is well-known as an advocate of U.S. passenger rail development.

The Quad Cities project also has been awarded $230 million in federal funding. Amtrak service on the route was to have begun in 2013, but has been delayed and no target inauguration date has been set. An Illinois DOT spokesman said the start of service and construction timeline will be announced following the completion of planning work before the end of the year.