If a resolution passed by Student Senate during its March 31 meeting has the power to persuade the state government, Drake students could have a new way to make the journey to and from home within the next few years.
The resolution was in support of Iowa’s $310 million Amtrak high-speed rail service project, something Senate said would be good for students and the state overall.
The project is set to begin travel from Iowa City to Chicago in 2015 and will eventually take passengers from Des Moines to Iowa City, Chicago and Omaha. The state government has budgeted $6.5 million for the project this year, but Gov. Terry Branstad is considering cutting the funds.
Student Body President-elect Greg Larson and the student senators said the project, which would potentially offer Drake students more convenient travel around the Midwest, is threatened even if funding is cut for just one year. Along with passing the resolution, they sent a petition to Branstad with 600 student and faculty signatures.
Larson said the railway would be beneficial to everyone involved and could prove useful in recruiting new Drake students.
“We’d have one less barrier in place, attracting young professionals and students not only to come here, but to stay here,” Larson said.
Community advocates of the project said it would boost the economy, create jobs and reduce carbon dioxide emissions and traveling costs.
But Branstad has expressed his skepticism of the railway’s benefits, especially compared to its costs. The $310 million price tag for the Chicago-Iowa City passenger rail is split between Illinois and Iowa. The federal government will cover up to 80 percent of each state’s tab, and the Illinois and Iowa governments will supply the remaining funds over the next five years.
The average Amtrak ticket price in 2010 was $63, according to the Research and Innovative Technology Administration Bureau of Transportation Statistics. It said the train’s top speeds of 79 mph in Iowa and 90 mph in Illinois can avoid traffic congestion to allow for convenient, affordable travel.
There would be several ways Drake students could use the rail system to their advantage.
“I just studied abroad in Australia and flew out of Chicago,” sophomore Janelle Behnke said. “This would have made traveling a lot easier.”
Along with convenience, the rail system is also expected to boost the Iowa economy and be beneficial to the environment. According to the Iowa Department of Transportation, every dollar invested in the rail service would lead to $2.77 in transportation economic benefits. The DOT also said the average Amtrak passenger uses 30 percent less energy per mile than a passenger car.
However, the DOT said some of the benefits could take up to 30 years to set in. According to analysis by Pew’s Subsidyscope, 41 of Amtrak’s 44 routes lost money in 2008 with losses ranging from $5 to $462 per passenger, depending on the line.
Sophomore Kevin Betthauser said the rail service would still be a great addition.
“This would probably help a lot of Drake students who travel between all of those areas,” he said. “Not to mention it would probably cut down on pollution.”
Larson said Senate’s support for this railway aligns with his goal for next year to get involved in the community outside of Drake.
“In the past, we have focused on campus activities and not necessarily on the big picture, the big things we should be worrying about,” Larson said. “We’re really excited to reach out to other people and businesses in the community. This will directly affect students in a big way.”
Who’s on board?
Projected ridership for the rail system in 2015 is 246,800, including passengers diverted from other modes of transportation. Over half of the projected passengers would have taken cars. Seven percent wouldn’t have made it at all.