Office of Rail Transportation

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Masthead for Iowa Railroad Ties

Masthead, continued

Masthead, continued

Masthead, continued


 August 2008


Feature Articles

Moving on down the track
– A retirement farewell from Peggy Baer, long-time rail advocate and, most recently, director of the Office of Rail Transportation.    FULL ARTICLE

Flooding devastates rail infrastructure – Flooding in Iowa seriously disrupts rail traffic and heavily damages infrastructure.    FULL ARTICLE

Moving Iowa Forward Conference – Conference attendees explore the links between transportation systems and economic development.   

Access Rail – The Iowa General Assembly appropriates $2 million to the Rail Revolving Loan and Grant Program.    FULL ARTICLE

Community connections Railroads are striving to develop community connections.    FULL ARTICLE

Railroads' generosity – Iowa's railroads contribute to Iowa Department of Transportation’s (DOT) 2008 Food Drive.     FULL ARTICLE

Industry News
Green" power for Iowa Interstate – New locomotives more powerful, fuel efficient and meet stringent environmental requirements.     FULL ARTICLE

Safety News
Moving billboards for rail safety
Iowa Operation Lifesaver uses city buses to deliver safety messages.     FULL ARTICLE

Rail safety awards – Iowa Interstate wins top national safety award. Others recognized for safety record.     FULL ARTICLE

On the Web
Iowa Rail Tool Kit – A basic guide to rail services in Iowa.    


Decorative rule


amtrak engine

Passenger Rail Corner

Quad Cities to Iowa City study released – Amtrak releases feasibility study for passenger service from the Quad Cities to Iowa City.    FULL ARTICLE 

Amtrak ticket Information on the Internet
or call 1-800-USA-RAIL


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Iowa Department of Transportation logo

Did you know...



During the spring flooding, railroads loaded rail cars with whatever innocuous, heavy materials they had available, such as rock, scrap steel or water, to park on bridges threatened by flooding. The extra weight can help keep the bridges from floating off their moorings and washing away during extreme flooding conditions. 




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Moving on down the track
This is my last column. By the time you read this I will have retired June 27. Tammy Nicholson will serve as the Office of Rail Transportation director, and I welcome her to a great office and a great job!

I started with the Iowa DOT in September 1980, just one month before the Stagger’s Act was passed by Congress to deregulate the railroad industry. I have had the privilege of working with Iowa DOT’s rail programs for 28 years, and it has been an exciting ride. For many years, I was the manager of the rail assistance program that provided state and federal assistance to upgrade branch lines. There are many track miles still in operation in the state that would not be here now if state leaders had not had the foresight and courage to assist private railroad companies.

The Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad (Rock Island) and Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (Milwaukee Road) were both in bankruptcy, and during the first few years we were consumed with working through issues of their liquidation and downsizing. The railroads have all worked hard to upgrade their physical infrastructure and compete for business in a changing world. The Iowa railroads (at least before this month’s flooding – more on that in a later article) are in the best physical condition they have been in for 30 years, and they are making money. Of course, making money leads to more investment in track and equipment needs.

Since I became the office director in 2001, we have worked to advocate for the importance of the rail transportation system to citizens and businesses of Iowa. We have created a Web site (, developed this digital newsletter, developed and hosted a joint conference with the Iowa Department of Economic Development on the connections between transportation and economic development, and successfully sought state funding for a program to assist in the cost of building rail connections for companies that are creating jobs in Iowa. We have assisted the railroads in maintaining safe crossings by installing signal-warning devices, rebuilding hundreds of crossing surfaces for a safer and smoother ride in your vehicle, and increased track safety by employing two inspectors to monitor the 4,100 miles of track in Iowa.

I could not have imagined I would end my time here witnessing the damage and destruction done by the 2008 Iowa floods. As I write this, the flooding is not over and damage assessments are still coming in, but it is apparent the 2008 damages to the railroads far exceed that of 1993. The damage to Iowa's railroads will negatively impact Iowa businesses and farmers for months to come. I have retrieved my files on the 1993 flood relief provided by Congress to Iowa railroads and hope disaster relief funding is available again in 2008.

Farewell – 

Peggy Baer




Flooding devastates rail infrastructure
Rushing flood waters have dealt Iowa's railroad infrastructure a blow with 14 bridges washed out or severely damaged, submerged track covered with mud and debris, and miles of washouts. The full impact is yet to be discovered as bridges continue to be assessed and repairs under way. Repairs are not yet complete, but the total damage to Iowa rail infrastructure is estimated to be at least $80 million. 

Nearly every railroad that has track in the southern or eastern part of Iowa suffered some damage (11 of Iowa's 20 railroads). The extent of the infrastructure damage is significant. Maybe even more damaging, but more difficult to quantify, are the railroads’ lost revenues and the impact on rail shippers. Railroads lost shipments to alternative transportation during service suspensions and closure of impacted shipping facilities. Rail detours, necessitated by bridge or track damage, increased the railroads’ operating costs and delays shipments. All of these disruptions have significant economic impacts on the railroads, their shippers and eventual consumers. 

Just a few examples of the flooding damage and impacts:

  • A bridge in Waterloo washed out, cutting rail services to John Deere. The loss of this bridge cuts Iowa Northern Railroad's rail line in half. Iowa Northern staff also had to vacate their downtown Cedar Rapids headquarters.


  • Iowa River Railroad (a startup line between Shell Rock and Marshalltown) suffered significant damage to seven bridges, severing their south connection to the Union Pacific Railroad. Three bridges were destroyed.

  • Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railroad suffered extensive damage, including a major bridge and 13 crossing signal systems. Many industrial clients in the area also suffered flood damage and shutdowns. It is unclear how quickly rail revenue will recover when the line is restored.

  • Iowa Interstate Railroad's (IAIS) operations were essentially at a standstill for about 10 days. When the floodgates were shut in Des Moines, IAIS was cut in two. Some of the most serious damage was near Atalissa where about a mile of track was washed out, some as deep as 10-12 feet.

  • Iowa Chicago & Eastern Railroad (IC&E) and Canadian National (CN) each lost a bridge early in the flooding and had shutdowns of five to 10 days on parts of their line. In July, a garage-sized boulder fell on IC&E’s tracks near Guttenberg. A train struck the boulder and derailed, plunging four locomotives into the water.

  • BNSF's main line from Ottumwa to Burlington was shut down from June 14 to July 3, a total of 20 days. Only heroic efforts to elevate a 17-mile section of track on the Transcon line running through Fort Madison kept one of the two tracks operating at restricted speed throughout the flooding.

  • Amtrak suspended service for nearly three weeks on the California Zephyr, which travels the width of southern Iowa, and for nearly as long on the Southwest Chief that passes through Fort Madison, disrupting travel plans for many Iowans and non-Iowans.

  •  Union Pacific Railroad's double main line (which normally carries 60-70 trains a day) was shut down for nine days.

For perspective, during a normal nine-day period, Union Pacific Railroad's main east-west rail line through Iowa transports roughly 6.6 million tons of freight – the equivalent of approximately 252,000 semi-trailer loads of freight. That freight had to be delayed, rerouted or shipped via alternate transportation when the rail line shut down due to flooding. With similar effects throughout the rail transportation system in Iowa, the ability to reroute traffic was difficult and disruption to shippers significant.

Railroads are eligible to apply for emergency funds to repair or replace safety signals, however, the bulk of the repairs must come from revenues, grants or loans. In 1993, a special federal appropriation provided $21 million for Midwestern states affected by flooding, with Iowa receiving a $5.8 million share. With the loss of major bridges and more extensive damage in 2008, the Iowa DOT will support Iowa’s railroads in seeking federal and state funding to help restore Iowa's rail transportation system to a healthy and safe condition.


Moving Iowa Forward Conference
An enthusiastic audience once again attended the Moving Iowa Forward Conference, cosponsored by the Iowa departments of Economic Development and Transportation this past April. 

A conference highlight was an address by Matthew Rose, chairman, president and chief executive officer of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Corporation, and member of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission. Rose spoke about future growth projections for transportation, the importance of capacity improvements and how congestion would affect nearly every region of the country. The national funding gap for transportation to improve capacity is $107 billion per year through 2015, and $50 billion per year just to maintain the current system. Increased funding from all sources - federal, local, state, and private - is needed to meet transportation demands. 

Mark your calendars now for April 8, 2009, to attend next year's event.
For more information on this past year's conference.  


Community connections

In the past, during an era when many Iowa communities had a rail depot, a rail yard and/or rail personnel living in town, the railroad was an important part of the community. Today, towns do not always see railroads as part of their community, but some railroads are working to change that. 

BNSF Railway
BNSF has a program called “Citizens for Rail Security.” This program encourages community members and rail fans to share information about activities occurring around the railroad's property. With only 186 police officers for their entire 32,000 miles of track in 28 states and two Canadian provinces (essentially a 100-foot wide privately owned transportation corridor), BNSF's rail system is impossible to police on a daily basis. 

BNSF asks community members to register in the "Citizens for Rail Security" program. The program emphasizes the need to report irregular activity, helps identify what to report and why, and provides safety rules to follow. BNSF uses the information to help keep their system safe and secure. To learn more about the program, or join their “team,” visit the Citizens for Rail Security web site. There is also a special component of the program for local police officers who work more intensively with BNSF to increase community safety. 

Union Pacific Railroad (UP)
The UP recently reorganized their Government Affairs Office and has renewed focus on community involvement. Brenda Mainwaring, Iowa's government affairs representative, has visited many cities and counties since she started in October 2007. Mainwaring  serves as a go-to person for community officials. 
Ms. Mainwaring says, “The key is to proactively make ourselves a part of the community. We impact communities in a number of ways, and we had increasingly failed in being a part of the community.” She has fielded a number of issues that relate to the railroad’s presence, but are not necessarily related to running trains. For example, the recent flooding in Iowa caused a number of trains to be rerouted through the Twin Cities and to Omaha via Sheldon, LeMars and Sioux City. Ms. Mainwaring called to alert these Iowa communities to potential increased train traffic. “We’re seeing communities using us as a resource in ways we didn’t anticipate.”

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Access Rail
During the 2008 legislative session, the Iowa General Assembly passed a $2 million appropriation for the Railroad Revolving Loan and Grant Program. The program provides loans and grants to assist Iowa railroads and industry with rail infrastructure. Thanks to advocates of the Access Rail initiative that supports funding to maintain and build a strong and vital rail transportation system.


Railroads' generosity
Each year the Iowa DOT sponsors a statewide food drive to benefit local food pantries. One of the major fundraisers in the week-long event is a silent auction of donated items. This year, the railroads in Iowa were asked for donations, and did they ever deliver – jackets, coolers, models, and much, much more. Gift baskets of railroad branded merchandise were assembled that yielded more than $400 for the food drive. Thanks to those railroads that participated to help those less fortunate. Total employee contributions to the food drive exceeded $12,000.


Industry News


"Green" power for Iowa Interstate
Iowa Interstate Railroad (IAIS) announced the purchase of 12 new General Electric Evolution Series locomotives. The new GE ES44AC locomotives, expected this fall, are 18 percent more fuel-efficient than other alternatives investigated by IAIS. Dennis Miller, president and CEO said, "One of the new 4,400 horsepower units will pull a train equivalent to what two or three of our current units can handle, further reducing our fuel consumption and maintenance costs. They are environmentally friendly and comply with all of the latest EPA requirements."




Safety  News


Moving billboards for rail safety
Recently, a city bus with a unique message was seen in Ames. Iowa Operation Lifesaver (OL), the Iowa chapter of the national rail safety organization that partners with railroads operating in Iowa, purchased ad space on local CyRide buses in Ames promoting rail safety. 

“This is just another method for Iowa OL to get the safety message – ‘Look. Listen. Live.’ – out to the public whether they are on the bus, in their car or on foot,” said Francis Edeker, Iowa OL president. "Similar community campaigns have been in place in Cedar Rapids, Clinton, Dubuque, and Waterloo. The community campaigns are scheduled for February through July 2008 and may be extended to the end of the year.”





Rail safety awards
The E.H. Harriman Memorial Awards Selection Committee presented its top Gold Award to Iowa Interstate Railroad in recognition of its excellent safety record in 2007. President and CEO Dennis Miller commented, "Our company completed almost 400,000 hours of safe activity in 2007, and I am very honored to accept this award on behalf of our employees for the second time in the past four years." In 2003, Iowa Interstate completed a full year with zero injuries.

The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association annually honors railroads for their safety records. Iowa railroads recognized in 2008 were:  Burlington Junction Railway, D & I Railroad Co., Cedar Rapids & Iowa City Railway Co., and Iowa Interstate Railroad, Ltd.


On the Web


Iowa Rail Tool Kit
New on the Office of Rail Transportation’s Web site is the Iowa Rail Tool Kit, a guide to using rail service in Iowa. Developed by Libby Ogard of Prime Focus LLC for a "Rail 101" breakout session at the Moving Iowa Forward Conference, the tool kit is a primer on how to go about considering and using rail services.


Passenger Rail Corner


Quad Cities to Iowa City study released
A study conducted by Amtrak on behalf of the Iowa DOT concerning the feasibility of passenger rail service from the Quad Cities to Iowa City on a route originating in Chicago was released April 18, 2008, at a news conference in Iowa City.  

The Iowa DOT has requested an extension of the feasibility study to Des Moines.
More information on the feasibility studies