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Locals make another train pitch

BY BRITTANY BIERLE | APRIL 28, 2010 7:30 AM

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Officials will reapply for federal funding for a rail line between Iowa City and Chicago after Gov. Chet Culver signed legislation on Monday setting aside $6.5 million for the project.

Plans for the railway have been ongoing; an attempt to begin construction last year failed because of funding problems.

State lawmakers committed up to $20 million in funding last month. The total cost of the project would be around $102 million, and officials plan to ask for the remainder in federal funds.

The next step is to submit an application for the federal dollars by July. Local officials will find out whether they will receive the money in October.

While waiting for funding, local officials will coordinate with those in Illinois to determine the rail line’s path, said Rebecca Neades, the vice president and director of public policy for the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce. Neades said she believes work, if it happens, will begin at the Chicago end and move toward Iowa City.

Neades called a public meeting to order on Tuesday afternoon with a “toot toot” of her train whistle. Roughly 20 people gathered to hear officials’ plans and ask questions. Some asked what the line would look like, while others said it would make their frequent trips to Chicago to visit family easier.

Brad Neumann, an assistant transportation planner for Iowa City, said the train would be a small one with only two to three cars, but its small size would reduce the possibility of delayed departures. The trip would cost riders between $18 and $53, depending on when the ticket is purchased. Traveling around 79 miles-per-hour, officials estimate going from downtown Chicago to downtown Iowa City would take roughly five hours. The train would make numerous stops in Illinois, including Union Station, and would provide free high-speed Internet for passengers.

“A lot of people come to Iowa City for the boutiques and great customer service that comes with them,” Neades said. “This railway will bring back the regular customers that come for shopping in downtown Iowa City.”

Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, said the railway would help local businesses with certain exchanges and same-day transactions.

“This railway would expand the core of downtown Iowa City and diversify downtown,” Jacoby said. “You almost have to be a bar to make any money right now.”

Neades said she thinks the railway would bring in more job opportunities, as well as boost tourism and urban development.

University of Iowa students would benefit from the train service, as well as UI alumni, who could more easily travel back for sports events, she said.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said the railway was a big community interest, particularly with so many UI students hailing from Illinois.

Amtrak officials expect around 120,000 people would take the route annually, according to the press release from Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce.

Neades said she’s optimistic the project can garner funding this time around, and someday, she hopes, it will expand its operations to Des Moines and Omaha.

“We are very hopeful that it’s our time up to bat,” she said.


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