The Environmental Law and Policy Center is calling for an expansion of rail service in Iowa. Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, estimates a new rail line from Des Moines to Iowa City to the Quad Cities and on to Chicago would cost about $125 million.
"We’ve been working for a number of years to develop the Midwest High-Speed Rail Network and the time is now," Learner says. "In the economic stimulus legislation, Congress passed a remarkable $9.3 billion for high-speed rail development around the country."
Learner expects states to compete for that money and he’s encouraging officials in Iowa and Illinois to pledge some state money to match the federal funds. "That’s a good investment…providing modern, fast, comfortable, convenient rail service that the public wants," Learner says.
Learner envisions a new rail line that would have trains running at 79 miles per hour. "They’re diesel engines," He says. "They’re burning fossil fuels, but on a per passenger basis the fact of the matter is the amount of pollution that’s produced by a train carrying a lot of passengers — on a per passenger, per mile basis — is a lot less than an airplane or a car."
Learner also argues a rail line that runs exclusively between Des Moines and Chicago with stops only in Iowa City and the Quad Cities could operate on a much more efficient basis than trains which currently traverse Iowa with stops in six southern Iowa cities. Learner says those trains are going cross-country, from California to the east coast, with numerous stops and weather delays that make that kind of train travel much less attractive. Amtrak makes stops in Burlington, Creston, Fort Madison, Mount Pleasant, Osceola and Ottumwa.
The Environmental Law and Policy Center opened an office in Des Moines last night. It already has offices in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and South Dakota.