The average price of regular gasoline in the Quad-Cities today is $3.92. So it’s no wonder QCTimes.com commenters are eager for passenger rail service to return to the QCA.
“I hope this goes through,” Nobodyspecial wrote. “We travel to Iowa City/Coralville a lot, so it’d be nice to not have to waste so much gas, and I would definitely go up to Chicago more. I actually like driving in Chicago, but again, with gas prices and that, this could really make it easier. And no toll booths!”
U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Barack Obama, D-Ill., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, sent a letter to Amtrak last week asking them to dust off the trains they have in storage in Delaware and get them ready to roll in Illinois and Iowa. They hope to see passenger rail service up and running in two years from Iowa City to the Quad-Cities and from the Quad-Cities to Chicago.
I spent $28.50 to drive to Chicago and back last weekend. But I drive a hybrid and got 49 mpg for the trip. If I were still driving my sports coupe, I would have shelled out at least $70 at the pump. If I had an SUV, I couldn’t afford to leave town.
A road trip to the big city incurs other costs, too. “It’s $25 to park in Chicago and $10 in tolls,” QCA wrote. “Amtrak could be a great deal.”
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari estimates the Q-C-to-Chicago fare as low as $19 one-way. That’s $38 for a round trip, plus tax — a heckuva deal, especially if you consider your time valuable. Although I enjoy the three-hour karaoke experience that is my drive to Chicago, I’d much rather spend the journey reading or even getting some work done on my laptop. I could even talk guilt-free on my cell phone.
Some commenters aren’t convinced passenger rail is worth the cost to taxpayers. Jteach wrote, “Track upgrades between Chicago and the Q-C — $22.7 million. Track upgrades between the Q-C and Iowa City —$32.5 million. Our representatives want Amtrak to pick up the cost, but the spokesman for Amtrak says the state pays the costs. Get ready for higher taxes people. That money has to come from somewhere. I for one am sick of having my taxes go up every year.”
That is a pretty big investment, but it’s as necessary as investing in our roads and bridges, particularly if we want to reduce oil consumption as a nation. If Illinois can get a capital bill passed, there’s federal money already tagged to help with the track upgrades on the Chicago route.
Michael Burt was more concerned about the subsidies to operate the rail service.
“Anything needing multi-million subsidies is a bad idea, IMO,” he wrote. “The prices charged to users should reflect what it costs in reality, not poli-speak. You use it, you pay. No taxpayer subsidies.”
The new service in Illinois will require an additional state subsidy of about $6 million, according to Amtrak chief Alex Kummant. The state already pays $28 million a year in passenger rail subsidies.
That sounds like a lot, but Realistic reminds us, “If you drive an automobile or fly on an airline, you’re ‘on the dole’ as much, actually more, than anyone who rides Amtrak.”
Rail travel is subsidized at a relatively low rate compared to air travel and public transit. In 2002, rail received $2.18 billion, transit received $7.31 billion and aviation received about $4 billion in subsidies, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. And if you drive a car, you can thank the $15 billion to $35 billion in annual subsidies to oil companies for keeping the prices low (yes, $4 per gallon is cheap compared to what it costs in other countries).
Annual ridership on the Q-C-to-Chicago route is initially projected at 110,800 people. Nearly 187,000 people are projected to hop the train from the Quad-Cities to Iowa City each year. That gets vehicles off congested Interstate 80 and other busy routes, which means fewer emissions, less gasoline consumed and less wear-and-tear on our highways.
Proud Liberal found another benefit of rail travel, at least for Hawkeye fans: “Any football Saturday trains to Iowa City may need a few extra cars … and room for coolers.”
Melissa Coulter writes on the comments posted online at qctimes.com.