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Amtrak Moves to Downtown Fort Madison, Iowa

By December 17, 2021 No Comments
The Southwest Chief pulls into the Fort Madison station. Image: City of Fort Madison, photo by Mark Bousselot.

FORT MADISON, IOWA – On Dec. 15, 2021, Amtrak relocated to the historic Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway depot along the downtown riverfront. The move followed a more than decade-long, $4.5 million project to prepare the site for passenger operations. Trains had not stopped at the depot since 1968 when the Santa Fe Railway opened a new, smaller passenger building about two miles away on the edge of a rail yard. Since Amtrak did not begin operations until May 1971, it had never served the downtown depot via its famed Southwest Chief.

City and Amtrak leaders gathered five days earlier to host a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Santa Fe depot with state and local officials and community members. The westbound Southwest Chief made a special stop to allow Fort Madison Mayor Matt Mohrfeld and guests—who had boarded the train in Galesburg, Ill.—to detrain. Following speeches, the crowd enjoyed music, refreshments and fireworks lighting the night sky.

The Santa Fe depot is part of a complex that also includes a former Railway Express Agency building and freight office. Situated between Avenue H and Riverview Park bordering the Mississippi River, the three historic structures are stylistically similar, but were built over the span of 25 years. The combined freight and passenger depot, constructed of dark red brick and trimmed in local Appanoose stone, opened in 1910 to replace an earlier wooden structure.

“Around 2006, Fort Madison under the late Mayor Steve Ireland, said a riverfront rail town should once again have a downtown station to spark growth and connect to its heritage… attracting tourism. Fort Madison climbed over every obstacle and showed determination, energy and ingenuity.”

Amtrak VP, Stations, Properties and Accessibility David Handera

When the Santa Fe moved to its then-new depot in 1968, it sold the old station complex to the city for $1 and removed most of the furnishings. Fort Madison subsequently leased the buildings to the North Lee County Historical Society (NLCHS) in 1972, which installed a museum focused on regional history. Under the terms of the lease, the society was responsible for routine maintenance of the buildings.

Fort Madison, in collaboration with BNSF, Amtrak, Iowa Department of Transportation and others, had worked since 2006 to restore the depot to accommodate an Amtrak waiting room and ticket office as well as the museum. A major part of the work involved raising the building above the high water mark to prevent flooding from the Mississippi River. A new concrete platform with tactile edging was completed this year.

Posted Dec. 17, 2021