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Iowa to receive high-speed rail funding

BY NINA EARNEST | MAY 10, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa is set to receive more funding for high-speed rail equipment as part of $268 million in federal grants for train travel in Midwestern states.

The money will go toward purchasing 48 passenger rail cars and seven locomotives — all capable of traveling at 125 miles per hour — in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Missouri.

But despite the extra funds, the future of the proposed Iowa City-Chicago rail line is still in question.

Some officials hope that the continued interest in Iowa rail travel as a whole will positively influence public and governmental support for the proposed line.

Gov. Terry Branstad deemed the rail line fiscally irresponsible, fearing low ridership. Officials said the rail could cost $3 million a year. Tim Albrecht, a spokesman for Branstad, said the chief executive would continue to monitor the situation and the Legislature's decision.

"Ultimately, the responsibility lies with [the Legislature] and whether or not it decides to fund this project," Albrecht said.

Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, the head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the recent federal funds require a $20 million match from the state over the next three or four years. The Senate hopes to include $6.5 million in the budget for fiscal 2013, he said.

The state needs the money to show the federal government it is interested in the match program, the senator said. And Dvorsky said he hopes the federal offering would help promote passenger rail in Iowa.

"I just hope it shows some momentum, that there is some support for passenger rail in Iowa," he said.

It's not yet clear how much of the funding will go to each state.

Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, said passenger rail service from Iowa City to the Quad Cities or Chicago would ease travel for students, businesses, and families. The funding could go to areas hit by the economic downturn, the congressman said.

"I hope this funding, which provides a necessary investment in new locomotives and passenger cars, will help improve the Chicago-Quad Cities-Iowa City passenger rail corridor and spur ridership," Loebsack said in a statement.

The grant is a fraction of $2 billion awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve high-speed rail travel in the Northeast, the Midwest, and California. The funds, originally earmarked for a high-speed rail line in Florida, became available after Florida Gov. Rick Scott rejected the federal funds.

In total, the Midwest is scheduled to receive $404.1 million to expand high-speed rail service, the press release said.

The Department of Transportation has provided $230 million for a new Amtrak route connecting Chicago, the Quad Cities, and Iowa City in October 2010.

The project is scheduled to be completed in 2015, according to a statement from Rep. Bruce Braley.
Kelly McCann, director of communications for the Iowa City Chamber of Commerce — whose members have long supported the project — said the Chamber is "delighted" the federal government is investing in Midwest passenger rail.

"This is another step in the right direction for the Iowa City to Chicago passenger rail route," McCann said.


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