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Officials waiting for a train

BY ASHLEY OERMAN | DECEMBER 03, 2009 7:30 AM

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A record-breaking number of Amtrak riders in Iowa has reinforced Iowa City officials’ push for a passenger rail service to Chicago.

According to Amtrak, 66,286 passengers rode the rails in Iowa this fiscal year — the most riders the state has seen since Amtrak was created in 1971.

Despite the positive numbers, those figures most likely won’t be factored into a grant application filed by the city in October for federal funding that would go toward the rail line, said Amanda Martin of the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Office of Rail Transportation.

Tammy Nicholson, also in the Office of Rail Transportation, said Iowa is one of 24 states that has applied for the grant through the Federal Railroad Association to get passenger service in their cities.

The association will announce which states receive funding in early 2010, Martin said.

The $8 billion grant was given to the Railroad Association as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed in February 2009.

Lawmakers reserved the money in the plan for passenger train use to stimulate an expansion of the nation’s intercity railways.

Iowa City Mayor Regenia Bailey said the Iowa City City Council added railway plans to its list of priorities to be discussed with federal officials on Dec. 7.

Nicholson said if Iowa is not selected for the grant, the state will continue planning and apply for other federal funding.

But if Iowa is chosen, the track could be running by 2014.

Nancy Quellhorst, the president of the Iowa City Chamber of Commerce, said the railway would not only serve as transportation for UI students from the Chicago area but also would carry tourists, businessmen and patients of UI Hospitals and Clinics.

“There are a variety of reasons why people visit the Iowa City area,” she said.

Cara Schmale, a UI pharmacy student from Minnesota, said if an Iowa City-Chicago rail service were available now, she would use the track to visit friends in Chicago.

The 22-year-old said she thinks the train could also encourage out-of-state students to attend the university.

UI junior Mike Hubert, a Davenport resident, said he thinks rail transportation between the two cities is a good idea because it is safer and better for the environment.

He had heard about plans for a train connecting his home town and Chicago in the past, he said, and he is excited for the potential railway, which would make a stop in the Quad Cities.

“It should have been done a long time ago,” Hubert said.


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