Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Now Iowa is talking

The recent push to discuss sensible ground transportation is a healthy development, but we sense that  things get talked to death. Radio Iowa has the latest entry.

The Environmental Law and Policy Center is calling for an expansion of rail service in Iowa. Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, estimates a new rail line from Des Moines to Iowa City to the Quad Cities and on to Chicago would cost about $125 million.

TFA always approves passenger train improvements, but we see two questions here.

One is the idea of a single Quad Cities stop between Des Moines and Chicago. We have not seen a transportation study, so ELPC could be on to something, but we doubt it.

There is also the question of cost. For $125 million, a sensible appropriation for the entire project, we would expect a lot more than 79 mph. There should be some areas over 100 mph or the ticket price can not be sufficient.

The headline writer called this idea “high speed rail.” Can anybody be that sheltered?

This service only makes sense as part of a larger picture. The better concept is Omaha-Chicago  Technically, that might means an Omaha-Ames-Chicago corridor.

Anyway, more planning is needed.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail

7 Responses

  1. Omaha – Ames – Chicago, otherwise occupied by the passenger-train-unfriendly Union Pacific.

    The somewhat slower routing by way of Iowa City and Des Moines, in addition to placating Iowa legislators, makes use of excess capacity formerly known as the Rock Island Line.

  2. Iowa City and Des Moines also have a substantially larger population to serve than does Ames.

  3. patlynch says:

    My radio career took me to Boone, Iowa years ago. Ames is 30 minutes from Des Moines and the home of Iowa State University. It would be a great Amtrak stop IMHO.

  4. Andy Lynch says:

    Pat – Check out this article:

    They are pretty serious about restoring passenger service from Chicago to Quad Cities to Iowa City. Extending it to Des Moines and then Omaha is nice but they studies haven’t been done yet.

    They are talking about 79mph service but the study did not examine the cost of 110mph speed. I think most people here would just like to have some kind of decent service as it becomes much more expensive to drive into Chicago.

  5. Anonymous says:

    You make a good point about needing a study for the route west of Des Moines. Considering that connections with the Zephyr would add even more dots to the map, one would presume the enefits would be strong. Two routes across Iowa would work nicely. But, this is all talk for now.

    One value of this conversation is to be a reminder of the rail service that has been lost over 40 years and should be restored.

  6. John Schnipkoweit says:

    A couple of talkings points – the UP line between Omaha and Chicago runs thru Cedar Rapids, population 250,000. Combined with Ames (and a DSM spur?) this would seem like a healthy number, especially with a lot of companies in Cedar Rapids that have HQ’s in Chicago for biz traffic. Also, since the UP is the most traveled/best maintained rail route in Iowa, upgrading to 110 mph should be less costly, shouldn’t it? Couldn’t that also open the door for the first high speed freight opportunity in the US? Europe has high speed freight, why not get more bang for our buck? As far as UP not being passenger friendly – UP operates passenger lines for Metra in Chicago already, and has a long history of passenger service throughout the country – I would find it hard to believe that they would shy away from federal incentive to upgrade their rails – I assume they just don’t want delays from another carrier.

  7. John Bredin says:

    “One is the idea of a single Quad Cities stop between Des Moines and Chicago. We have not seen a transportation study, so ELPC could be on to something, but we doubt it.”

    The Quad Cities is (are?) *not* intended to be the only stop between Des Moines and Chicago.

    The Chicago-Quad Cities study peformed by Amtrak for Illinois DOT (within the Iowa DOT link above by Andy Lynch) shows the trains making the existing Illinois Zephyr/Carl Sandburg stops from Chicago to Princeton, then an intermediate stop at Geneseo before reaching Moline.

    To be fair, the Quad Cities-Iowa City study performed by Amtrak for Iowa DOT (also within Mr. Lynch’s link) shows the trains making no stops between Moline and Iowa City.

    Nonetheless, calling a rail service a Chicago-Quad Cities-Iowa City route in the unavoidable shorthand of a news article is a far cry from those being the service’s *only* stops.

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