BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – It’s been a long road, and not without controversy, but Fort Madison city officials will step off onto the new Amtrak Depot next Friday, Dec. 10 at 6 p.m.
Fort Madison Mayor Matt Mohrfeld is welcoming the entire community out to witness the ribbon cutting of the new Amtrak Depot on the east side of the refurbished North Lee County Historical Museum in Riverview Park next week.
“There is an open invitation to the public to come out to this,” Mohrfeld said. “We’re gonna pull up to that new depot and step off the train and there will be fireworks in the backdrop, a band playing, we’re gonna have some speeches and some recognition and then offer some punch and cookies.”
Mohrfeld, an avid runner, picked up the baton, so to speak, from former Mayor Brad Randolph, who made a commitment to the late Steve Ireland that he would do everything he could to see the train depot moved back to the park, where it was originally.
Mohrfeld said he was proud to be part of seeing the project through, even though he had his doubts at the beginning.
“I will tell you, that I’m proud to be a part of completing it. To take a vision that’s been entrusted to me from Steve (Ireland) and then Mayor Brad and now to me. It means something that they had faith in giving this project to me,” Mohrfeld said.
The depot relocation was a $1.3 million project that pooled money from Amtrak, the city, and the Iowa Department of Transportation, through the Federal Rail Association.
The city went back and forth moving forward with the project and had to foster agreements that were over a decade in the making. At one point the council said they were done with the project and were flushing the idea of moving the depot back to the museum site.
But former Mayor Brad Randolph and Councilman Chris Greenwald put in overtime working the phones with federal and state officials trying to get additional funding to offset the city’s shortfall in covering its share of the ever-increasing costs of the project.
Several different lease agreements between Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Amtrak, and the city were written and rewritten and rewritten before eventually going back to an original agreement that requires a manned ticket booth inside the depot.
But with all that in the city’s rearview mirror, Mohrfeld and about 14 other dignitaries will board the train Friday morning on the 10th and take the train into Galesburg for lunch and a short stay to look at the Galesburg railroad district. Then the group will reboard the train and head back to Fort Madison where they will step off onto the platform, kicking off the celebration.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has been invited to the reception, but Mohrfeld said he couldn’t confirm if she would be able to make it down to the event. He’s also invited the rest of the district’s elected local, state, and federal legislators to be part of the ribbon cutting.
The event train will arrive at approximately 6 p.m. with the official ribbon cutting taking place at 6:30 p.m. with a few addresses and recognition of dignitaries in attendance.
“As a generality, I’m really excited to see the project to completion. When I first came on to the council and saw this struggling to move forward and then got involved, it gave me an appreciation of this being a very good project,” Mohrfeld said.
“It’s a great Fort Madison project, especially when you put it in a view of revitalization – the new highway, reuse of the depot, a resurgence of sorts downtown, the rehab of the marina, and the historic rehabilitation of buildings downtown starting with the Lee County Bank building.
Mohrfeld said the Fort Madison history is embedded in the river, the fort and the railroad and the new rail fan cam on the Kingsley bears out the interest that railroad enthusiasts have for rail history.
“It’s like a plan that’s really starting to come together. I’ve even ridden the train a couple times recently to get a feel for it. There’s certainly a niche for it. This isn’t just a cool thing… it’s a Fort Madison thing,” he said.