UP trains to avoid peak times in downtown Cedar Rapids

(The following story by Rick Smith appeared on The Gazette website on August 8.)

CEDAR RAPIDS - Dodging trains downtown may be turning a bit more predictable.

Downtown leaders on Tuesday announced that the Union Pacific Railroad Co. has agreed to try to keep trains off the downtown tracks during peak driving times in the morning, lunchtime and evening.

Doug Neumann, Downtown District president/CEO, hailed the agreement between the railroad, the city, the district and the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce as ``a significant breakthrough'' and an ``important first step.''

The ``train-free'' times are 7:45 to 8:15 in the morning, 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. at lunchtime and 4:45 to 6 in the evening.

Neumann said the agreement has been in place for a few weeks now, and some have wanted to wait to announce it to see if the railroad could deliver.

``To a large extent, so far, they have,'' he said. ``Is it a big deal? It is if we can educate 13,000 downtown workers about the (times) and cause less delay and less frustration for them.''

James Barnes, spokesman for Union Pacific, on Tuesday called the agreement ``a relatively loose'' one that will need to be modified if the railroad customers need a change.

``But we will do our best to abide with what's been outlined there,'' Barnes said.

Train delays and noise downtown have been a persistent problem for as long as anyone can remember. Doing something about the delays and noise is one of seven central focuses in a
revitalization effort now beginning downtown.

The revitalization team working on the railroad problem is also looking at directional train horns and establishing a whistle-free zone downtown, which would require the construction of gates at crossings.

Long-term, the hope is to find a way for Union Pacific to switch cars on a track other than the single track running through downtown.

Council member Chuck Swore has suggested building a track across Cedar Lake to use for switching maneuvers.

Swore on Tuesday called the train-free times a step ahead.

``But until they tell me there's absolutely no way they can ever consider switching trains somewhere other than downtown Cedar Rapids, I'll keep pushing,'' he said.

Thursday, August 9, 2007


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