Culver, Loebsack back IC-Chicago train line

BY TYLER LYON | JULY 27, 2009 7:15 AM

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver and Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa rolled into the old Rock Island train station on Sunday afternoon for the Whistle Stop Rally.

They were met by children and adults munching on free hot dogs and waving mini American flags and the sound of a brass band playing a jaunty rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

The two came to Iowa City to show their support for a proposed Chicago-Iowa City passenger-train line, which could take hordes of Illinois natives attending the UI back to the suburbs for $42 one-way.

Culver said he was on his way to be a part of a Midwestern governors rail summit held by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn to discuss how the Midwestern rails will be connected.

“It’s going to be very competitive,” Culver said.

But officials are confident the federal government will award $51 million in stimulus money for the project. Culver and Loebsack said they want locals to participate in the effort.

“We know with all the students here in Iowa City — they’re going to help us promote light rail and passenger rail,” Culver said.

The Iowa government contributed $3 million needed to refurbish freight tracks from Iowa City to the Quad Cities. The Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce will apply for a $32.5 million federal grant, while officials in Illinois will apply for $22.5 million to work on the section from Chicago to the Quad Cities.

Nancy Quellhorst, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, said the train is expected to run from Iowa City to Chicago by 2012.

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Quellhorst said officials expect to hear whether they’ll receive the stimulus funds a few weeks after the first week of October — when the applications are due — and federal officials have told them their pre-applications are “the most robust,” of those submitted so far.

The rally attracted Iowa City resident Libris Fidelis, formerly known as Ronald Kinum. He brought a home-made sign that read “Iowa Needs National Passenger Rail Service To East, and West.”

“It’s really a shame that people have abandoned the trains,” he said. “It’s always been the best, and we need to have it brought back.”

Fidelis used to be a locomotive engineer for Southern Pacific in California. He said he wants those tracks to be expanded to Omaha, which will also connect Iowa City with the West.

Culver, who signed Fidelis’ sign, said a challenge will be meeting Amtrak’s expected ridership of 120,000 to 190,000 riders every year.

“It is important that you tell your friends, that you tell your neighbors, to get really engaged here over the next several months as Amtrak makes some very important decisions,” he said.

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