Expanded rail service contract endorsed

The supervisors endorsed a plan to put away five-sixths of its revenue, during the first year, into a reserve fund for track repairs that cost more than $50,000. The pending agreement calls for Iowa Pacific to bankroll track repairs up to $50,000.

The agreement also calls for Iowa Pacific to pay the taxes on the railway bed, now about $14,000 per year. This cost was formerly shouldered by taxpayers.

The agreement initially limits the freight traffic to one train in each direction per day - runs that are likely to occur during the night when no passenger trains are running.

Supervisors balked at this restriction, noting they'd like to see freight traffic increase - and spur economic development in the process. For decades, there has been no freight traffic whatsoever on the rail line.

The agreement prohibits the transportation of hazardous or toxic substances, including fuel, beyond the required amount to operate the train, unless approved by the county.

The supervisors also endorsed a plan to set up a public authority to oversee the rail line. County Attorney Paul Dusek said such an authority would streamline rail-related administration and help buffer the county from liability in case of a calamity.

The rail service, to be known as Saratoga & North Creek Railroad, will be continuing to offer Thomas the Tank Engine excursions as well as a Polar Express trip in the winter, a service that's popular and profitable on Iowa Pacific's other lines in the western U.S.

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