When I was a kid, my mom and I traveled on Amtrak a lot. She had a huge fear of flying, which she has since overcome with the help of medication. We'd leave from the Amtrak depot in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was maybe 10 minutes from the house. She'd park, we'd hop on, and head towards New York to visit family.

It was a slow method of travel, but it was fun. As a kid, I'd meet other kids, befriend 'em for the 18 or however many hours the trip took, then do it all over on the trip home. Amtrak is still around. Still an option. But since moving to Iowa I realized very quickly that it's not a viable option. Not at all.

Where in Iowa do you live, again?

If you live in one of Iowa's largest cities like Cedar Rapids or Des Moines. Waterloo or Davenport, I have some bad news for you: you're going to have to drive a long way to catch a train. In fact, from Cedar Rapids, to get on an Amtrak, you have to drive to Mt. Pleasant which is about an hour and 10 minutes. That is, in and of itself, a trip. It's an even longer trek from Waterloo to the nearest Amtrak.

There are two Amtrak routes that come through Iowa: the Southwest Chief and the California Zephyr. Along with only two routes, Iowa has embarrassingly strange Amtrak stops. According to its own website, you can only get on and off in:

  • Burlington
  • Creston
  • Fort Madison
  • Mt. Pleasant
  • Osceola
  • Ottumwa

That's it. While the number of stations isn't terribly low, six is exactly the same number Minnesota has, it's where they're stopping. No Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, no larger cities. Minnesota has one in St. Paul, which is part of the Twin Cities, the two largest towns in the state. North Dakota has a stop in Fargo, Grand Forks, and Minot. All large cities. Missouri has a stop in St. Loius and Kansas City...

So what's up with Iowa having no stations in larger towns? In April, an Iowa City stop was proposed but fell short on funding. This would have also made a stop in the Quad-Cities, which currently has no Amtrak service. Iowa only having a handful of stops is one thing, it's the location and the lack of options for larger cities.

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If you want people to use forms of mass transit and not drive everywhere, they need options. If you want emissions cut and fewer road trips, give us options. Then again, Amtrak is only in 46 U.S. states so, it could be worse I guess. Sorry, Wyoming and South Dakota. Oh, and Alaska and Hawaii obviously.

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