Area leaders look to move forward Moline-Chicago passenger rail train

Published: Feb. 27, 2023 at 1:23 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 27, 2023 at 6:07 PM CST
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MOLINE, Ill. (KWQC) - Area leaders are looking for the next steps to move forward the Chicago to Moline Amtrak passenger rail train. This project, however, isn’t new to the QCA.

In January 2007, then U.S. Senator Dick Durbin requested a feasibility study regarding service of a passenger train that would connect the Quad Cities to Chicago.

In April 2008, it was determined that the Quad City Metropolitan area, which consisted of roughly 400,000 residents at the time, would greatly benefit from having a passenger railway.

Negotiations between the Illinois Department of Transportation, Amtrak, and the Iowa Interstate Railroad began. Flash forward to 2023 and those same negotiations are still happening.

Illinois State Senator Mike Halpin says one party is refusing to cooperate.

“Sadly, although there was unanimity among officeholders on public policy, and a bipartisan commitment to the funds for this project, there has always been one common denominator, standing the way to progress,” Halpin said. “That is the Iowa Interstate Railroad, a private company that controls 50 miles or so track that will connect Chicago to the Quad Cities.”

After years of negotiations, Illinois is now playing hard-ball. Halpin says, federal laws are in place that Amtrak could use to their benefit.

“Amtrak does have the ability to ask the Surface Transportation Board to impose the requirement to use the facilities, passenger rail is supposed to have priority under federal law,” Halpin said.

According to Moline Mayor, Sangeetha Rayapati, this wouldn’t be the first time the Surface Transportation Board stepped in to assist a local government.

“This is something that’s happened recently,” Rayapati said. “It took many, many years down between Biloxi and New Orleans as they were in the same kind of situation. They had to go to the Surface Transportation Board to get the project done. So you know, we have we have examples of this happening in other places.”

As talks continue, representatives from Moline and the State of Illinois say they’re not willing to give up yet.

“As the leader of the city of Moline, I’m not willing to wait any longer for the railroad to do what is right. We still believe in the benefits of passenger rail, but we need to make decisions without it being a sole focus of our development work,” Rayaputi said.

President and CEO of Visit Quad Cities Dave Herrell said in a statement; “We are fully confident that the benefits of adding a rail route from Chicago to Moline will add tremendous value and drive economic development benefits, positively impact tourism, create jobs, and bolster connectivity which is a recommendation within our Tourism Master Plan. In our destination’s SWOT analysis passenger rail is identified as a weakness for our market. We are still hopeful for an agreement between the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and the Iowa Interstate (IAIS) Railroad but if that is not possible, we support other measures and solutions at the federal, state, and local levels to make passenger rail happen for Quad Citizens and potential visitors. This several decades conversation needs to get resolved one way or another for all parties involved. Visit Quad Cities is grateful to Sen. Mike Halpin, Rep. Gregg Johnson, and City of Moline Mayor Sangeetha Rayapati for continuing to push for accountability for a project that should happen. Do we want to be in a region that continues to kick the can down the road or take action to make this place the very best it can be? That is the fundamental question.”

The Quad City Chamber also sent the following statement: “The Chamber has been a longtime advocate in supporting and securing state and federal funding for passenger rail,” said CEO LaDrina Wilson. “We’ve done so because we see this as an opportunity to invite people from all over the country to experience the greatness of the QC. It’s unfortunate that our efforts to support this public-private partnership have not produced the outcome we’d hoped for. If we are unable to move forward with passenger rail, we will advocate for the secured state and federal dollars to be used in our community for infrastructure and placemaking enhancements.”

“The Quad Cities Chamber’s next step will be to meet with the Illinois Department of Transportation (DOT) on our advocacy trip to Springfield on March 7,” said Rhonda Ludwig, Director, Government Affairs. “We will ask for the DOT’s continued support to take our concerns forward.”

Iowa Interstate Railroad has as of noon Monday not yet responded to a request for comment.