Amtrak hopes to work with the Illinois Department of Transportation to resolve the impasse over bringing passenger rail service between Chicago and Moline.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said late Monday that the national rail service has offered its assistance to IDOT, but it’s up to the state agency whether to work with the federal Surface Transportation Board to resolve the dispute with Iowa Interstate Railroad, he said. The board typically works to resolve disagreements between railroad companies.

In this Feb. 6, 2014 file photo, an Amtrak logo is seen on a train at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Last summer, the Surface Transportation Board has ordered mediation in an ongoing dispute between Amtrak on one side and on the other side freight railroads CSX and Norfolk Southern along with the Alabama State Port Authority over the possible return of passenger rail service between New Orleans and Mobile.

The dispute stemmed from Amtrak’s application last year seeking an STB order requiring host freight railroads CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Railroad to allow intercity passenger trains to operate over their lines from the Crescent City to the Port City.

Amtrak’s Magliari said Monday the QC dispute is not between railroads, but local and state officials and Iowa Interstate.

The Illinois Department of Transportation has pursued several avenues to advance the restoration of passenger rail service between Chicago and Quad Cities, IDOT spokesman Paul Wappel said Monday by email. These steps have included consulting with Amtrak to explore ways that the agency might assist in this project.

“Recently, there was a meeting held with IDOT, the Federal Railroad Administration, Amtrak and the Iowa Interstate Railroad to discuss ways that the four parties could work together to bring the service to a reality and start delivering the benefits to the public,” Wappel of IDOT said. “Unfortunately, the Iowa Interstate Railroad still wishes to pursue a scope of improvements that would be cost-prohibitive to taxpayers. 

“Despite the challenges, IDOT remains committed to this project and seeing passenger rail return to Moline and the Quad Cities,” he said.

The state has $447 million identified for the entire project between Chicago and Moline (mix of federal, state resources, including $225 million from the Rebuild Illinois capital program), with the Iowa Interstate Railroad seeking a public investment of roughly $750 million for the 55-mile section between Wyanet and Moline., Wappel said.

Moline Mayor Sangeetha Rayapati, with state Sen. Mike Halpin, left, and state rep. Gregg Johnson, discuss passenger rail service Monday, Feb. 27, 2023.

Earlier Monday, Moline Mayor Sangeetha Rayapati, Illinois State Sen. Mike Halpin and State Rep. Gregg Johnson said they’re asking Amtrak and the Surface Transportation Board to order Iowa Interstate to provide the passenger rail facilities, for reasonable compensation.

“I believe we spent enough time hoping the railroad would do the right thing,” Halpin said. “They have failed.”

QC Chamber statement

The Quad Cities Chamber said Monday it’s been a longtime advocate in supporting and securing state and federal funding for passenger rail.

“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,” said CEO LaDrina Wilson. “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.”

Illinois State Sen. Mike Halpin speaks in Moline Feb. 27, 2023.

“Too much time has passed to simply rely on Iowa Interstate Railroad to do the right thing,” Sen. Halpin said later Monday.

Support from many sources

The rail project has had the support of multiple presidential administrations, governors, state representatives, state senators, mayors and city councils. Despite agreement on the need for the project, Iowa Interstate (a private company that controls the 50 miles of track that would connect Chicago and the QC) has been a barrier to getting the project finalized, he said.,

Negotiations with Iowa Interstate over how to implement passenger rail service have been going on for several years despite bipartisan agreement on the project.

Senator Halpin addressed in his speech that funds for the project had been pledged with significant state and federal money. The rail would directly connect Moline and Chicago if implemented.

“I am urging Amtrak, with the support of the Illinois Department of Transportation, to initiate proceedings with the Surface Transportation Board to order Iowa Interstate to provide the necessary facilities and to order reasonable compensation to Iowa Interstate for the use of those facilities,” said Halpin.