The Fort Madison City Council this week signed an amended agreement related to the planned relocation of Amtrak to the historic depot in Riverview Park. There is still some work to do, though, before passenger rail service is offered downtown.
The city has been negotiating with Amtrak and BNSF Railway for roughly a decade regarding the Amtrak relocation from its current location on 20th St. BNSF is involved in the discussions because it owns the land and the rail tracks near the depot in Riverview Park.
The city council approved three separate agreements last November related to the relocation, which was expected to complete the city's requirements in the process. But City Manager David Varley said BNSF identified several issues with one of the agreements: the platform sub-lease agreement.
Varley said BNSF changed some of the language and returned the amended version to the city for approval, which the city council granted this week.
“90% of the language [BNSF] added is something that was probably added by an attorney so they could charge them for a few more hours work or to just make it a little more legal,” said Varley. “It was nothing substantive that would affect the city’s operation of the depot.”
Varley said there was one exception though: a requirement that any city employee, contractor, or other invited person complete a safety training program before stepping foot on the passenger rail platform, which has yet to be built.
“Before we can step foot on the platform, we have to go to a certain BNSF website and take a safety course,” said Varley. “I went and registered to see what it is like. It is fairly simple to register. The most painful part is you have to upload a photo of yourself, but then you also have to pay $20 to take the course.”
Varley said those who pass the course will receive an ID card with their photo on it that would be valid for one year. It would have to be presented to BNSF personnel on-site.
Varley said now that the city council has approved the amended agreement, it will go to Amtrak for approval along with the two other agreements approved by the city in November.
The passenger rail platform must be constructed before service can begin. Varley said not only must the three agreements be signed by all parties before that can happen, but the final designs and engineering work for the platform must be approved, and BNSF informed the city that some changes are needed.
Varley said the suggestions are being implemented by the city and its engineers. He said the revised construction documents will be returned to BNSF as soon as possible.
Varley said only when all the agreements are signed and the designs approved will the Iowa Department of Transportation put the platform project out for bid. The estimated price tag is about $1.2 million.