BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A Fort Madison city official was part of a conference call Thursday with Amtrak rail officials regarding the proposed relocation of the rail line’s passenger depot to Riverview Park.
City Manager David Varley said after the call things were getting close to finalizing the agreements, but discussions focused on issues that had been talked about before.
“There were a few minor changes that the attorney for Amtrak hasn’t had to time change,” Varley said. “I’m going through some of the red lines on the agreements and making sure all the exhibits in the agreement are proper. But nothing substantive is getting changed.”
The city’s engineer with Klingner and Associates has to submit one final spec drawing for the platform and Amtrak will have to send the drawing through one final review process. If the platform drawing is approved then Amtrak will approve the plans and the Fort Madison City Council would have to approve the final draft.
After both sides have signed off on the agreement, the state would go to a bid-letting process, according to Varley, which he said he hopes to have done before the end of the year with construction to start early in 2018.
“I’m trying to get these documents cleaned up and back to them by the end of the week, then they will pass it around to staff and hopefully get it good to go,” he said.
“My guess is the best case scenario would be that we would get a permanent bid letting date this year with construction beginning early next year. IDOT (Iowa Department of Transportation) sets these things so far out and looking at how long it’s been taking to get responses from Amtrak…their wheels turn slower than ours. But once you get that date from the state you’re pretty much guaranteed.”
When asked about Amtrak funding for 2018, Varley said that question was specifically asked on the call and Amtrak assured them no cuts would be made.
“We asked them point blank and expressed our concern about the budget discussions and their response was the money was in there for Amtrak service and was passed,” Varley said.
“They told us the proposed budget cut was not supported by a single congressman and when you look at the history, when the federal government pays for a project like this, you don’t see too many of them being cut after the fact.”
The depot platform project is estimated at $1.2 million of which the city’s share would be about $360,000.”
Varley called the project a “strange bird”.
“With grants and federal funding, we would construct the platform and since BNSF owns the property, turn it over to them. They would probably lease it to Amtrak, and since they wouldn’t want to be responsible for maintaining it, it would probably be leased back to the city so we maintain it.”