Governor Terry Branstad says he’s not ready to reject a $53 million federal grant to extend passenger rail service from Davenport to Iowa City. The state got the grant in October of 2010, when Democrat Chet Culver was governor and Culver championed the project, however current Republican Governor Terry Branstad has never been a cheerleader for it.
“We’ve had the Department of Transportation reviewing and analyzing this and determining whether or not this is feasible and what the cost would be to state and local government,” Branstad says. “I would wait until we have a full report and recommendations from the Department of Transportation before deciding.”
DOT officials told legislators this past spring it would likely require a $3 million-a-year subsidy for high-speed passenger train service from Iowa City to the Quad Cities, plus state matching funds in the first year to get the project up and running. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha — the legislature’s top Republican — has said if passenger train service through the central portion of the state made sense, financially, a private company would already be offering it. The governor cites “considerable skepticism” of the project and a lack of “population density” to support passenger train service from Iowa City to Chicago.
“We do have an Amtrak route that goes through southern Iowa. This would be adding another route and the cost of that and upgrading the facilities and the ridership are all issues that I asked the Department of Transportation to carefully study and review,” Branstad says, “and I would wait until we hear back from them before we make a decision.”
The project’s ultimate goal would be a 110-mile-per-hour passenger train running between Omaha and Chicago. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen has argued freight train traffic would benefit from the upgrades to the tracks that run through the middle of Iowa. A group called the Iowa Association of Railroad Passengers cites a study indicating a quarter of a million people would take the train from Iowa City to Chicago each year if the service were available.