December 18, 2013 – New figures were released by the Iowa Department of Transportation on the cost of implementing passenger rail service from Chicago to Iowa City. Tammy Nicholson, Office of Rail Transportation Director with the Iowa Department of Transportation provided an update based on the completion of an analysis by HDR consultants released in early December. Ms. Nicholson noted that there is a joint effort between Iowa and Illinois to implement rail service between Chicago and Iowa City. Phase I of the effort is 79 mph service with two round trips daily between Chicago and the Quad Cities. Phase II is the extension of that service to Iowa City.
Phase I - Chicago to Quad Cities has 30% engineering completed and in the process of procuring rolling stock and establishing construction, maintenance, and service agreements between the appropriate responsible parties. Additional efforts to develop stations in Geneseo and Moline are in progress. Illinois DOT is tentatively scheduled to present at the next Commission meeting with a more detailed status on Phase I.
In Phase II, the IADOT has completed the conceptual engineering work, environmental analysis, ridership and revenue forecasts and developed new cost estimates based on this work. The revised cost of the effort is now estimated at $125 million. In 2010, both DOTs submitted a grant to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and were awarded $230 million. Of this, $177 million has been committed to Illinois for Phase I and $53 million has been committed to Iowa for Phase II. Based on the revised costs for Phase II, it is anticipated that Iowa will need $72 million in matching funds. This is up substantially from the original $21 million anticipated. Major changes affecting these increases are:
· Increased construction costs due to project delay
· Need for additional infrastructure to accommodate current and future growth on Iowa Interstate Railroad
· Changes in FRA policy requiring the project be constructed for a 20-year life
· Reduced request of the original grant to Iowa.
On a positive note, it is estimated the net operating cost would be lower based on the incremental share of the Quad Cities-Iowa City portion of the route, which is estimated at $600,000 annually pending negotiations with Illinois. The original estimate was $3 million annually.
To move the project forward, the next steps would be to conduct preliminary engineering and additional environmental work. Without a commitment from the State, the $53 million in FRA funds is at risk of being withdrawn. Commissioners voted to direct staff to prepare a letter to the Governor and copied to legislators reiterating the Commission's support for passenger rail and encouraging legislative action in the 2014 session to secure the $53 million in Federal Railroad Administration funding.