House Bill Would Let Iowa Get On Board With Light Rail Compact

Screenshot/Iowa House Map courtesy of MIPRC

By Ty Rushing

February 14, 2023

Could Iowa finally get on board with the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact (MIPRC)? A new legislative bill hints at that possibility.

An Iowa House Transportation Committee hearing was held on Tuesday for HSB 132, a bill that would allow the Hawkeye State to join the 23-year-old rail compact that already includes Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, and Wisconsin.

The purpose of the compact is to promote, coordinate and support regional improvements to passenger rail service in the Midwest.

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Lobbyist Steve Falck of the Environmental Law and Policy Center said while his organization is registered neutral on the proposal, his comments at the hearing would be in favor of it. He said it makes sense for Iowa representatives to have a seat at the table and that the compact is the same for every member state so there’s no concern for amendments that the state disagrees with.

“There are states around us that are planning for transportation options that are passenger rail and, really, that’s what this is about: giving consumers a choice,” Falck said. “If I want to travel, do I want to drive a car, take the bus, take an airplane, or take the train? And so having that option to plan with the states around us just makes a lot of sense.”

The Brother of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), a rail union that represents more than 57,000 workers nationwide, was registered in favor of it.

“We think it just makes sense to be in this compact and to have Iowa included in the talks for passenger rail,” said BLET Iowa State Legislative Board Chairman Mike Walker.

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A lobbyist for Union Pacific, which was registered neutral, noted this plan would come with infrastructure needs, would clog up rail lines, and would seem to conflict with other legislation that would limit the length of freight trains passing through Iowa.

“You would also need to have some infrastructure improvements to the rail to make sure that it can actually be high speed as referred to in the bill,” said Union Pacific Lobbyist Michael Triplett. “High speed in Europe is anywhere between 150 to 200 and some odd miles per hour. Go to Japan and it’ll knock your socks off. In the US, they’re talking about 70 miles an hour is what can be handled currently and we will need to have upgrades to be able to do that.”

Iowa lawmakers agreed to move forward with the proposal.

“Obviously, there would be infrastructure talks,” said Rep. Ray Sorensen (R-Greenfield) who chaired the hearing. “The point of this bill would be to just have a seat at the table for those talks, not necessarily this is legislation putting in high-speed rail at this time.”

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MIPRC’s 40-year-plan would create a vast passenger rail network in the Midwest and Iowa would play a prominent part. 

From Des Moines, rail passengers would be able to go directly to Minnesota’s Twin Cities, Kansas City, Omaha, the Quad Cities, and Chicago. There would also be a direct Dubuque to Chicago line.

MIPRC considers Des Moines to be an “emerging corridor” and the plan calls for eight daily round trips from Des Moines to Chicago. 

Besides Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio, and South Dakota are also eligible to join the MIPRC.


by Ty Rushing

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  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

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