Amtrack passengers stopping in Burlington, Mount Pleasant and Osceola this weekend will get a special treat. Eliot Keller of the Iowa Association of Railroad Passengers says his group will present the train passengers with birthday cake in a celebration. He says it’s Amtrack’s 34th birthday and he says they wanted to get together and “celebrate the excellent service it provides.” Keller says Amtrack makes an impact on the state. He says there are six cities directly served by Amtrack. He says nearly 55-thousand people got on or off Amtrack trains in Iowa in the 2004 fiscal year. He says Amtrack spent about three-quarters of a million dollars on wages and goods in Iowa. While Keller says Amtrack is a great service, he says it clearly hasn’t been allowed to reach its potential. He says, “The federal government has decided over a number of years to keep Amtrack on a starvation diet, so it exists, but doesn’t grow.” Keller says the passenger rail service could be a lot better with some more funding.He says, “It needs new equipment, it needs money for bridge improvements, rail improvements, money for new routes.” He says there was a proposal for a new route from St. Paul to Kansas City in 1991 that would come through Iowa and be a great addition, but he says with the current funding level, it isn’t going to happen. Keller says rail service can be a viable option. He says, “People want to ride, fast ,frequent, modern trains. And if you can provide those trains as has been done in other countries, as has been done in commuter lines in some other parts of this country, ridership is up.” He says ridership continues to go up in California on the commuter trains. He says ridership is also up on the commuter trains in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Keller says we need to think of how transportation modes work together — and how passenger rail fits in — instead of thinking of them as individual entities. Passengers will get the birthday cake on the Sunday stops.
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