18.4.08

GET YOUR TICKET AT THE STATION ON THE ROCK ISLAND LINE. There was a joke, in those early years of Amtrak before the opt-out railroads had to opt in, about the lady who had to get to Moline in the worst way. The punchline: Sorry, ma'am, the Rocket just left.

Now comes a proposal to restore the Des Moines Rocket.

The trip from Iowa City to Chicago would take about five hours with a train traveling up to 79 mph. A one-way adult ticket could range from $25 to $68, based on fares for comparable routes.

[Amtrak spokesman and onetime WNIU newscaster Marc] Magliari said the service would be popular with college students, especially the many Illinois natives who attend the University of Iowa. The university's hospital facilities are also a draw to the area, he said.

Others would likely take the train to visit casinos in the Quad-Cities area, officials said.

The aforementioned Des Moines Rocket reached Iowa City in 4 hours 25 minutes on the timetable in effect in June of 1954, and the Rocky Mountain Rocket was there 3 hours 54 minutes after leaving Chicago. The Rock Island line was clapped out at the time the railroad liquidated, although it is now in shape for light axle-loading, multi-wheeled steam locomotives (of five coupled axles rather than seven) as well as a cousin of the Rock Island's war baby Northerns. The planners anticipate more work.

At the request of the Illinois Department of Transportation, Amtrak in January completed a study on establishing passenger-train service between Chicago and the Quad-Cities. Parts of that plan were incorporated into the study of the Iowa City to Chicago route.

Iowa officials also have asked for a study on extending the route to Des Moines. That should be ready in late 2009, Magliari said.

Illinois is also looking at a new Amtrak line running between Rockford, Ill., and Dubuque.

What the article doesn't tell readers is that there is a railroad currently capable of supporting 100 mph passenger train operation, serving the riverboats at Clinton as well as the universities at DeKalb, Illinois; and Boone, Iowa; with a short bus connection from Cedar Rapids to Iowa City. That railroad, however, is property of the passenger-unfriendly Union Pacific.

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