FOREST CITY — The 28 miles of former Union Pacific railroad track from Forest City to Belmond has seen more traffic in the last three weeks than in the past five years, according to new operator Iowa Northern Railway Co. President Dan Sabin.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by Gov. Terry Branstad and other local and county officials was held Monday afternoon in Forest City.
Union Pacific intended to abandon the line because it was reluctant to operate trains with fewer than 100 cars, making access to businesses along the 28 miles of track difficult.
The North Central Iowa Rail Corridor LLC purchased the track for $1.5 million and signed a 10-year lease-to-own agreement with Iowa Northern Railway to operate the line.
“Most of us know in this day and age when you lose a railroad you never get it back,” said Dave Kingland, manager of the North Central Iowa Rail Corridor and president of Forest City Economic Development Group.
The project received a $600,000 USDA loan, a loan from a local bank and a $400,000 loan from the Iowa Department of Transportation.
About $1 million was raised from investors, according to Beth Bilyeu, manager of North Central Iowa Rail Corridor LLC.
Besides the $1.5 million purchase price, another $500,000 was needed for improvements such as a switch in Garner and other expenses.
Sabin said Iowa Northern wants to “be part of a whole new chapter for the counties that we serve.”
Branstad said he was happy to be back in North Iowa.
“It’s fun when you can come to your home area and celebrate a success like this,” Branstad said.
He said his top priority is economic development and bringing good jobs to Iowa.
“I think it’s going to be a great thing for Forest City, Garner and the whole line,” Branstad said.
Branstad said the rail line will make a difference in what farmers are going to be able to get for their grain by providing them access to additional markets.
He also said using railroads will save wear and tear on the state’s roads.
The 3M distribution center and Winnebago Industries will now have access to the rail line for shipping.
An Iowa Northern engine with Branstad on board broke the ceremonial red ribbon strung across the tracks in Forest City.
“It’s been a lot of fun hearing the train whistles,” Kingland said.