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Fort Madison celebrates return of passenger rail to downtown

An Amtrak train passes by the restored red brick depot on Fort Madison's riverfront.
City of Fort Madison photo by Mark Bousselot
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Officials in Fort Madison are celebrating the completion of a 14-year quest to restore an historic, riverfront depot and bring passenger rail service back to the city’s downtown. ";

Passenger trains have not stopped at the red brick depot along Fort Madison’s riverfront since 1968.

That’s when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway vacated the historic facility built in 1910 and moved passenger service to a depot next to its freight yard.

But that all changes today.

Officials in Fort Madison are celebrating the completion of a 14-year odyssey to restore the historic depot and bring passenger rail service back to the city’s downtown.

“It’s been interesting, it’s been exciting, it’s been frustrating, it’s been expensive,” said Mayor Matt Mohrfeld.

Mohrfeld will lead a delegation of city, state, and Amtrak officials to commemorate the first day of regular service.  

The group will take Amtrak to Galesburg, then board the train back toward Fort Madison around 5:30 p.m.

“Then at 6:25, “Mohrfeld said, “we step off the train for the first time ever at the new depot.”

Because Amtrak did not begin national operations until 1971, it has never served the downtown location until now.

Mohrfeld said the project has been waylaid over the years by issues from funding to flooding.

Just elected to a second term, the mayor credits the work of those before him as Fort Madison prepares to celebrate the completion of the project with a ribbon cutting, fireworks, and other activities.

“Our station is just going to be beautiful,” Mohrfeld said.

The project required raising the depot above the Mississippi River Floodplain, constructing an ADA-compliant platform, and other renovations.

Mohrfeld said what he calls the “new, historic depot" is quite an improvement over the last one, which was not well-lit and in an industrial area near the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

Situated alongside Fort Madison’s other riverfront rehabilitation projects, the mayor said the renovated depot is a sight to see.

“When you look at Fort Madison, you stand back, and there’s two things that are obvious,” Mohrfeld said. “We have a beautiful riverfront and we have beautiful rail access.”

Jane Carlson covers west central Illinois and southeast Iowa for Tri States Public Radio.