Atlantic remains “On track” for high speed rail service


February 20th, 2013 by Ric Hanson

It may take up to 10-years, but Atlantic is on-track to receive high-speed passenger rail service. That was the word from City Administrator Doug Harris, during Wednesday night’s meeting of the Atlantic City Council. Harris said with the first three phases of a study to bring high-speed passenger rail from Chicago to Omaha, and an environmental impact study having been completed, the five routes being considered have been narrowed down to one.  He said the only route being considered now, is the Iowa Interstate Railroad line, which goes through Atlantic. The next phase he is a financial feasibility and cost/benefit analysis.

Harris said transportation officials have approved moving forward with a Chicago-to-Moline route in 2015. Tenative approval has also been given for the next phase, which is from Moline to Iowa City in 2017. The third phase is from Iowa City to Des Moines. No date has been set yet, for that segment. The fourth and final phase is from Des Moines to Omaha. Harris said officials are exploring the possibility of putting a train station in Atlantic. The proposal will be included in a “Station Analysis Report.”

Harris said the key is trying to determine the cost and benefit, and how many people the route will serve. The study projects 31,637 passengers per year would board and depart the train, from Atlantic. The preliminary cost of building a new train station in Atlantic to accommodate those passengers, according to the report, would cost around $3-million. Harris said officials assumed there wouldn’t be an interest in using the existing depot in Atlantic, but Harris asked them to include that as a possible alternative to keep the costs down.

He said if the project moves forward, and a new terminal is built in Atlantic, there is an 80-percent Federal match for the minimal basic cost of providing the station. If the City wanted to do something extra,  anything above the minimal cost, would be at the City’s expense. Harris said the report weighs heavily “Intermodal transportation connections” as a factor in determining the need for a new train station, and he had to point out to officials, that Atlantic has that type of service available through SWITA (the Southwest Iowa Transportation Agency) buses. Harris said officials were excited to hear about that SWITA has buses which cover and eight-count area, and will incorporate that into their decision making process.

He says he hopes to know within the next six-months what the DOT’s timeline is, but there are additional public comment periods remaining, and it may be as much as 10-years before any significant movement on bringing high-speed rail to Atlantic, is realized.