DUBUQUE-CHICAGO RAILROAD. The possibility of passenger train serice between Dubuque and Chicago in 2009 offered the chance that a long tradition of rail service in the Tri-States would be continued.
Perhaps the first and certainly the strongest earliest promoter of railroads and Dubuque was John PLUMBE. He envisioned a transcontinental rail link and even devised the manner by which it could be financed. The first rail line to approach Dubuque was the Illinois Central, which reached Dunleith (now called East Dubuque) in 1855. It eventually crossed the DUNLEITH AND DUBUQUE BRIDGE, one of the first major projects of Andrew CARNEGIE.
Four railroads finally served Dubuque. By the mid-20th Century they were known as the Illinois Central, Milwaukee Road, Burlington and Chicago Great Western. In 2009 the IC was the Canadian National, the proposed future route of passenger trains to Chicago. The Milwaukee became the Iowa Chicago and Eastern (ICE) connecting Dubuque to St. Paul and the Quad Cities. The ICE was expected to be taken over by Canadian Pacific. The Burlington, now the Burlington Northern-Southern Pacific, traveled the other side of the Mississippi, connecting East Dubuque to St. Paul and Chicago. The remnants of the Chicago Great Western included the HERITAGE TRAIL between Dubuque and Dyersville.
When the freight railroads discontinued passenger train traffic in the 1960s, Dubuque was left with one link to Chicago, an Amtrak train called The Blackhawk. This stopped in Galena, Freeport and Rockford. This train, the victim of automobile traffic, stopped running in 1981.
In the late 1990s, Galena interests, led by Janet Fisher, tried to resume interest in passenger trains. In 2003, Freeport officials tried to interest Dubuque in a tourist train between Freeport and Dubuque, but Dubuque rejected the idea. With high gas prices, congested highways and a search for other transportation alternatives, the idea of passenger train service became one of the top ten ideas in Dubuque's 2005-6 Envision 2010 visioning project.
Dubuque's Envision 2010 Passenger Train committee began meetings in the spring of 2006. Galena's Fisher and others from along the route met in May to discuss the possibilities. Envision 2010 Passenger Train chairman David Overby, along with Mary Lee Hostert, Burton Everist, Bob Krayer and others attended, as did Dubuque Mayor Roy D. BUOL and City Manager Michael VAN MILLIGEN. This was followed by a meeting in Lena, Illinois, where the name of the group was determined to be the Blackhawk Area Railroad Coalition (BARC). One of Illinois Senator Dick Durban's staffers at this meeting passed this information on to Durban. By July, Durban and Illinois Congressman Don Manzullo led a large contingent of officials and train supporters in a meeting in Rockford promising to further BARC's agenda. Overby, Van Milligan and Chandra Ravada attended this meeting. A number of other meetings in Freeport, Rockford and Galena followed.
The Illinois DOT funded an Amtrak study of the Dubuque-Chicago route, which inspired the Quad Cities to follow suit a few months later, and eventually Iowa City and Des Moines became part of an overall effort to reinstate passenger train service to parts of Iowa. There are also efforts underway to include Waterloo in the service area.
At the federal level Congressman Bruce Braley, who represented Dubuque, Davenport and Waterloo, was appointed to the Transportation Committee. He was also on the conference committee to reconcile House and Senate versions of new Amtrak legislation, which would include federal dollars for projects such as this one. At the state level, the Iowa legislature, led by Dubuque Representatives Pam JOCHUM and Pat MURPHY, included support for the Dubuque train project in various legislative actions. In Illinois, the funding for the service was delayed for the moment as the Illinois Legislature determined how to best pay for the Dubuque and Quad Cities service.
In 2009 Dubuque's passenger train committee was headed by David Solberg, with Tom Riley, vice-chair; Penny Roeder, secretary; and Dan Block, treasurer. The committee signed an agreement with the Dubuque Area Community Foundation to gain non-profit status. Ed Sheppley took on the task of developing a railroad museum in Dubuque. ECIA was a supporter and key source. Dubuque officials David Heier and Teri Goodmann were instrumental in coordinating city efforts. Convention and Visitors Bureau Sue Czesinski led promotion and marketing for the group. Many other citizens took time to circulate petitions, help with displays, and other necessary work to keep the project moving forward.
Amtrak stated that it would take two construction seasons to get the tracks and other infrastructure up to speed before the train could begin running. Despite some delays in getting up a head of steam, it was considered still possible to have the first trains running by the autumn of 2010 - and the "vision" of Envision 2010 a reality.
(Information from a summary written by David Overby, former chairman of the Envision 2010 Passenger Train Committee)