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Feds Announce Plans for New Passenger Rail Cars That Could Serve Iowa

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - The federal government is officially seeking American manufacturers for rail passenger cars that could someday serve Iowa City.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced today builders may submit bids for a $551 million contract to build up to 130 new bi-level passenger cars. The cars will be used on Amtrak routes in "California, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Missouri, and potentially Iowa," according to the DOT release.

That's a reference to a planned service between Chicago and Moline, with a possible extension to Iowa City. Lahood released $177 million last fall to fund improvements to track and signal systems on the route. The DOT had allocated $230 million to extend the twice-daily roundtrips to Iowa City, but Gov. Terry Branstad and Republicans in the state House haven't been interested in coming up with the state's required $20 million match.

The DOT press release claims the new cars would be "the first American-made, standardized passenger rail cars," but they'd actually be the first in about 20 years. The last 140 of Amtrak's Superliner fleet of double-deck cars were built in Vermont in 1993 and '94.

The DOT will select a manufacturer for the project by this fall, with deliveries to begin in 2015. The new Chicago-Moline trains are tentatively set to begin operation in 2014.

The cars are being designed and built under a "Buy American" provision of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act signed by President George W. Bush in October 2008. The law requires all components of the new cars be built in the U.S. "with American-produced steel, iron and manufactured goods," according to DOT.