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Fort Madison Confident Depot Deal Will Happen Soon

Jason Parrott
Fort Madison continues to work to bring Amtrak to the city's downtown district

It has been a slow go for Fort Madison when it comes to the city's attempt to bring passenger rail service downtown. But there might soon be a light at the end of the tunnel.

It's been a decade since the city started taking steps to encourage Amtrak to relocate from its 20th Street train station to the historic depot in Riverview Park.

The city elevated the depot and two nearby buildings to take them out of the flood plain. It also redesigned the interior of the depot and relocated the North Lee County Historical Society’s museum.

The final step is the construction of an elevated passenger platform, which is years behind schedule because -- according to City Manager David Varley -- the original design would not work for BNSF Railway, which owns the tracks next to the depot.

“BNSF reviewed the plans and [they] showed [the platform] on a section of track that started to curve,” said Varley. “That is unacceptable to BNSF, so [it] asked us to redesign it and move the platform 300 feet to the west. So the redesign is moving the platform 300 feet to the west. It will be the last design, which we will then be able to use for construction.”

The city has re-hired Klingner & Associates to re-design the platform, agreeing to pay the firm $30,000. Varley said a new contract with the firm was needed, at the request of the Iowa DOT, because the original deal was signed in 2007.

Varley expects the design will be completed in a few months, but he said construction will not begin until the city has a signed contract with Amtrak that it will move downtown. He expects negotiations, which have been ongoing for years, to pick up as the city hopes to hold weekly conference calls with the company.

Varley hopes a deal can be reached before the end of 2016.

“We’ve agreed on some other things, and we’ve agreed on more and more and more,” said Varley. “So every time we agree on something, we get a little closer, so it gives me a little bit of confidence.”

Varley said a current sticking point is who is responsible if an environmental issue comes up during construction of the passenger platform.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.