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IC train plans derailed

BY KATHRYN STINSON | JANUARY 29, 2010 7:30 AM

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UI students from the Chicago area will still have to call Greyhound if they can’t hitch a ride home.

Plans for passenger rail service between Iowa City and Chicago hit a road block on Thursday, when White House officials announced the proposed line would not receive federal funding.

However, Iowa received $18 million of the total $8 billion in federal money distributed to railways in 31 states.

Paul Rumler, the executive director of the Quad Cities Passenger Rail Coalition, said the federal government’s decision was disappointing but not totally surprising.

“There just wasn’t enough money to go around for all the projects,” he said.

Rumler noted 34 states applied for the federal grant, totaling 217 applications and $57 billion in railway funding requests.

Though the Iowa City line didn’t receive the money officials were hoping for, they still plan to pursue other options.

In 2009, Illinois legislators passed a bill that included $550 million for high-speed and intercity passenger rail funding. To date, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn hasn’t announced the specific lines that will receive portions of the state funding. But in his Jan. 13 State of the State address, Quinn reinforced his support for the Quad City passenger rail service.

Rumler said the state chose to pursue federal funding before making any decisions on allocation.

UI junior Nick Wittig said he would certainly trade his experiences riding the bus to his hometown near Chicago for a high-speed rail line.

“A train ride would be much more convenient,” he said.

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver also expressed disappointment in the federal government’s decision to forgo funds for the route that would run through Iowa City, but he said he doesn’t foresee the state dropping the idea.

“These are sound projects,” Culver said in a statement released Thursday. “With the work we have already done, we will be competitive for future rounds of funding.”

Even without the Iowa City passenger service, Culver supported the executive administration’s decision to allocate $18 million to improve the existing Iowa rail system and to research a potential Chicago-Omaha route.

Dena Gray-Fisher, an official with the Iowa Department of Transportation, said the state will make improvements to the rail system located in southern Iowa. These include cross-over installations to allow for freight and passenger trains to pass each other without forcing the other locomotive to stop. Under the current setup, passenger trains have to compete with freight trains for rail use.

Additionally, the research funds granted for the Omaha-Chicago line will allow rail officials to determine if installing a line between the two cities is financially, systematically, and environmentally feasible.

State Department of Transportation officials said they continue to remain optimistic about pursuing other funding alternatives.

“We knew expanding the Iowa rail service was going to be incremental,” Gray-Fisher said. “Every step is just progress.”


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