Recently, a proposition has been made to bring back the “Black Hawk” Amtrak route. Initially started in 1974, the “Black Hawk” ran from Dubuque to Chicago by way of Rockford, following several similar and previously-discontinued routes. Its operation had been pushed for by several Iowa and Illinois locals, who insisted that the train was necessary to provide adequate transportation. Dubuque especially, being largely isolated from the eastern cities, had few alternative options.
Unfortunately, the “Black Hawk” history was riddled with troubles from the start. Already under skepticism by higher powers that doubted its effectiveness, it received neither the funding nor the commercial attention it needed to succeed. Problems ranged from slow traveling speeds to faulty equipment to a virtually nonexistence punctuality record. Its arrival and departure times were not well-suited to most business and recreational passengers, and over time this resulted in a low user rate. Rather than fix these issues, the Illinois Department of Transportation was quick to eliminate the entire operation. As a result, the “Black Hawk” was officially shut down in 1981.
The need for public transportation in and out of Dubuque was still recognized, and a new train route was planned for operation back in 2015. This, however, was brought to a standstill by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner. Recently, a local citizens committee has come together to push for the continuation and completion of these plans. The proposed route will run through Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Galena, Freeport, Rockford and Elgin, with potential flag stops at in-between communities like Dyersville, Scales Mound, Darlington, and Platteville.
While commuting to the city will be beneficial for all types of students, the “Black Hawk” train can make commuting easier for a lot of Iowa’s college-aged citizens, especially with the number of universities between the stops. To gather input as to how beneficial this railroad would be, The Lorian conducted a survey to gather opinions about the train. 42 students responded to the survey, with the response coming back with a high positive result. Out of the students who responded, 52.4 percent of those students already live along the proposed path the train would follow. Students expressed interest in taking the train home for breaks and weekends as well, since transportation along the path during the times students are likely to travel home: Friday afternoons and Sunday evenings.
Gerald Podraza, a member of the aforementioned committee, feels that reinstating the “Black Hawk” is a logical move. Having compared the “Black Hawk” to currently operating train lines like the Illinois Zephyr and the Pere Marquette, he’s found that it has the highest potential of all of them to generate revenue from tourism. College students also agree- out of the responders, 90.5 percent of students say they would use the “Black Hawk” to visit Illinois or Chicago instead of using a car.
“The train, especially the ‘Black Hawk,’ can be a source of extraordinary rural economic development,” Podraza said. “We have places between Rockford and Galena that are being underutilized.”
As of now, the fight to bring back the “Black Hawk” is currently tied up in procedure and red tape. If the train route indeed returns, however, there is no doubt that it will have a considerable impact in the Dubuque socio-economic scene.
This article was a part of The Lorian’s “What Du You Think?” feature. Before each issue, a poll will be sent out to the Loras community to be responded at one’s discretion. If one wishes to be selected as a featured quote, then select the box giving the Lorian permission to use your response. Any ideas should be submitted to Lorian@loras.edu.