Quad City Times
July 21, 2011
By Steven Martens
With a gathering of trains and train enthusiasts in Rock Island’s Schweibert Riverfront Park as a background Thursday, Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon urged Iowa leaders to make a decision on whether to provide matching state funds that would help bring passenger rail service back to the Quad-Cities.
Simon said passenger rail service is clean, efficient and a good way to link the rural areas of the state with commercial hubs, such as Chicago.
“The governor and I are dedicated to getting that rail here from Chicago,” she said.
Simon spoke during the opening day of Train Festival: America’s Celebration 2011, an event that is expected to bring up to 40,000 people to Rock Island through this weekend.
In 2010, the federal government allocated $230 million to fund a passenger rail route from Chicago to Iowa City that would pass through the Quad-Cities.
The state of Illinois has pledged $45 million, but the issue has been a source of contention in the Iowa Legislature between Democrats who support the project and Republicans who oppose it.
A last-minute budget deal reached at the end of June included $5 million in passenger rail funding for the current fiscal year, but the issue is expected to debated again during the next legislative session when lawmakers decide whether to commit $20 million to the project.
Henry Posner III, chairman of Iowa Interstate Railroad and the Railroad Development Corp., said it was unfortunate that passenger rail service had become a partisan issue. He said railroads survived government regulation and play a key role in economic development.
“Railroads are here to meet whatever the needs of the future are,” he said.
Tara Barney, CEO of the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce, said the area’s largest employers depend on rail service to do business, and passenger rail service would provide Quad-City residents with a convenient way to get to Chicago and Iowa City and help attract new businesses and jobs to the area.
Simon said she spoke to Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds about the issue Thursday morning. Simon said the state of Illinois could be in a position to move forward with the project without additional funding from Iowa, but she believed Iowans would benefit from the project.
“I don’t think they’ll want to miss out for long, if they want to miss out at all,” she said.