There is a great deal of untapped potential on Iowa’s rail transportation system. That’s just one of the major findings of the Iowa State Rail Plan.
The recently finalized plan updates a previous 2009 effort. Amanda Martin, of the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Office of Rail Transportation, said, “Every state DOT is required by the Federal Railroad Administration to prepare a rail plan. Here in Iowa, we don’t own any of the railroads or the infrastructure that railroads operate on, but we support rail safety and serve in an advocacy role to promote rail.”
As advocates for rail transportation, the Iowa DOT took a little different approach than other states when developing the rail plan that will be in place for the next four years. Martin said, “We understand the significant economic impacts rail transportation, particularly freight rail, provide for our state. During the planning process, we were determined to include as many stakeholders as possible to get a comprehensive plan and help others understand the importance of our rail system.”
Martin continued, “At the Iowa DOT, we have established really good relationships with the railroads in our state. They were very interested in this plan as a comprehensive effort to explain how the railroads enhance and support Iowa’s economy.”
The plan includes a section on existing and proposed passenger rail improvements, but a major portion of the plan focuses on freight movement by rail. Because freight rail plays such a large transportation role in the agriculture and manufacturing sectors, the Iowa State Rail Plan was developed in coordination with the Iowa State Freight Plan. Martin said, “In completing the plans simultaneously, we could maximize public input by holding meetings related to both efforts and not have to duplicate efforts.”
Because rail lines don’t end at state borders, those involved in the planning process held a webinar with other Midwestern states to discuss their planning efforts, trends, and best practices. Martin said, “To my knowledge, this type of outreach had not been done before during a state rail plan update, bringing a region together to discuss our common issues and goals.”
The plan includes a thorough look at today’s rail system and trends. Stakeholders identified a long list of current and future rail needs that far exceed current funding. Martin said, “While the funding for all these projects is not currently available, we wanted Iowa to be ready if additional federal or state funding becomes available.”