Moline’s effort to bring passenger rail service back to the Quad Cities may be heading to the federal Surface Transportation Board due to what Moline Mayor Sangeetha Rayapati and several area legislators deem “bad faith negotiating” by the Iowa Interstate Railroad.
At a press conference on Monday, Feb. 27, Mayor Rayapati along with Illinois Sen. Mike Halpin and Illinois Rep. Gregg Johnson presented a united front, calling on Amtrak and the Illinois DOT to force Iowa Interstate’s hand in upgrading around 50 miles of track needed to complete the long-awaited project.
“We are here to make sure our constituents know that Iowa Interstate Railroad is more interested in corporate welfare and someone else paying the bill for their track improvements than being a good partner and bringing passenger rail to Moline,” Mayor Rayapati said. “We want to support any partner that is willing to take Iowa Interstate to task and make a formal complaint to the Surface Transportation Board in order to force passenger rail to become a reality.”
More than $400 million in state and federal tax dollars have been pledged to the project, including the nearly $16 million spent in downtown Moline on The Q, the site of a future Amtrak station, the station portion of which has sat empty since construction was completed in 2018.
Sen. Halpin noted that several presidential administrations – as well as multiple governors, state legislators and U.S. Congress members from both sides of the aisle – have steadfastly supported the project financially.
“That support at all levels of government has resulted in close to a half billion in state and federal dollars pledged to make this project happen,” Sen. Halpin said. “Sadly, despite this unanimity and a bipartisan commitment to the funds for this project, there’s been one common denominator standing in the way of progress on this project and that’s the Iowa Interstate Railroad.”
All three elected officials who spoke at the press conference noted that Iowa Interstate has consistently refused to accept reasonable offers for track upgrades, instead asking for millions in tax dollars to upgrade its private facilities. Without the needed upgrades on the railroad’s tracks near Wyanet, Illinois, the project cannot be completed.
“It has become clear they are trying to extract as many public dollars into private coffers as they can, asking taxpayers to rebuild their railroad from the ground up,” Sen. Halpin said. “We’ve spent enough time hoping for the railroad to do the right thing. Unfortunately, I think they’ve failed and it’s time to take the next step.”
That next step is formally requesting Amtrak to appeal the matter to the Surface Transportation Board, which has the authority to mandate a resolution to the impasse. The move is rare, but not unprecedented. Recently, the Surface Transportation Board ordered two freight rail lines to allow passenger rail trains on tracks they operate between the cities of New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.
Mayor Rayapati and the legislators said they will update the public on the progress of the latest push to bring the project to completion when more information is available.