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Passenger Train Service: Romanticism or Reality?
Honestly, How Many People Would Regularly Ride the Rails?
Dubuque Telegraph Herald
June 11, 2006
[Note: This material is copyright by the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.]Passenger train service is, in a way, similar to . . . hosting a minor league baseball team. In reality, just how many people would actually use such an amenity? And how often would they use it? Probably not enough to fill a train or a ballpark regularly. . . . Before one dollar of taxpayer money is spent, the public must be informed of the cost and likely use of such a system. Then we can gauge how much community support truly exists.
But Envision 2010 isn't just a wish list. It is a list of real projects the community hopes to complete in the next five years. Passenger train service might be the most unrealistic goal on the list.
Passenger train service is, in a way, similar to another idea bounced around Dubuque: Hosting a minor league baseball team. The concept is great. And many locals love the idea. But in reality, just how many people would actually use such an amenity? And how often would they use it? Probably not enough to fill a train or a ballpark regularly.
Railroad proponents, who would love to see service between Dubuque and Chicago, are looking into options such as leasing track time from area railroads. That way, present infrastructure could be used. That would be the most feasible way to achieve their goal. But harvest season - railroads' busiest time of year - coincides with autumn foliage and the tourism peak. When passenger rail feasibility was studied in 2003, at least one railroad said it could not lease track time in the area during its busy fall season.
Most discussions about passenger rail service involve the Port of Dubuque as a hub. Not a bad idea, if it could be accommodated in the bustling area. The area would need a depot of some sort - but that is not the biggest challenge.
Let's face it: People are not rushing toward land-based commercial travel. In its last go-around, Amtrak served Dubuque from 1974 until only 1981. Greyhound cut bus service to Dubuque in 2004; it just wasn't profitable. (Burlington Trailways subsequently added Dubuque to its routes.) Dubuque's municipal bus system struggles with low ridership. It is hard to imagine that enough people would use passenger rail service to make it viable.
The community has identified - through the Envision process - passenger train service as an area of interest. By all means, committee members should explore it. But before one dollar of taxpayer money is spent, the public must be informed of the cost and likely use of such a system. Then we can gauge how much community support truly exists.