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Former Bettendorf Alderman Scott Webster, now a freshman Iowa state senator on the transportation committee, plans to introduce a bill this week to offer some measure of relief to train-affected Iowa small towns such as Camanche and Princeton. The proposed legislation would limit the length of a freight train operated in the state to 8,500 feet, which roughly translates to 1.6 miles. Mr. Webster said the limit will help “landlocked” businesses such as Arconic in Riverdale, which sits in his District 47 and includes all of Scott County. Violating the state regulation would come with a fine of up to $5,000, he added. “You'll hopefully see the bill -- maybe as soon as this week,” Mr. Webster told the QCBJ on Saturday, Jan. 21. The proposed $31 million merger between the Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern railroads is pending before the U.S. Surface Transportation Board. It is expected to eventually triple train traffic through parts of eastern and southern Iowa. Mr. Webster plans to submit the bill as soon as the legislation’s cosponsors have a chance to read and review it. He declined to identify those pledged cosponsors until they sign off on the measure. “At worse, this should spark a lot of much-needed conversation on the issue,” Mr. Webster said when asked about the chances of the bill becoming state law. “We hope to take it through the process and see if we can get to some agreement.” The new senator said he needed to look no closer than his home city for motivation. “If you look at Arconic, you could call it a small town, too,” said the 1998 Bettendorf High School graduate. “If you get a two-mile long train stopping in front of it, and (the train) sits there for an hour or more, that affects their business. “You’re shutting down a lot of stuff – employees leaving after a shift or arriving for the next shift, deliveries from being made, product from going out. So, this is not an anti-business bill – I’m a pro-business guy, and we want the trains to be able to operate. “But I think this bill is a common-sense compromise and protection for everybody affected,” he said. Mr. Webster acknowledged the bill hardly fixes every problem involved in the proposed $31 billion rail merger’s expected tripling of train traffic to 21 per day – or nearly one train every hour and nine minutes. “If an 8,500-foot train stops on all the wrong intersections, you’re still in a situation where Arconic really can’t work and nobody can get there for safety reasons,” he added. “LeClaire and some other smaller communities have the same issue. But hopefully this helps minimize those problems so it’s not as bad.” Mr. Webster said the average train length operating in Eastern Iowa is already 8,500 feet. “So, this bill just holds them to that and says they can’t go over,” he said. “When I was on (the Bettendorf) City Council last year, and we talked about this merger, (Canadian Pacific) claimed they weren't going to make their trains any longer. So, they should not have any problem with this legislation – unless that was not true. “It'll be interesting to see if they do have an issue. I'm sure they're going to say, ‘Hey, Illinois allows so many feet – so what do we do when we all of a sudden get to Iowa?’ he added. “I am pro-business, and I realize that a lot of our businesses put their items on these trains, too, so we don't want to shut them down. We just want to have something that works for everybody.” According to a Los Angeles Times article, there were no federal maximum limits for train length as of 2010 – and no requirements for railroads to notify agencies about unusually long trains. Since then, for instance, California limits trains now to 12,000 feet or about 2.3 miles while federal regulations cut off at 18,000 feet or 3.4 miles. A 2019 Congressional report also said the average length of trains was 1.4 miles in 2017, and that marked an increase of 25% since 2008. Railroad officials cite increased efficiencies and economic benefits among the advantages of longer freight trains. “But I’d imagine there might be a few (negatives) that come with a three-mile-long train, too – and that’s what we’re talking about here,” Mr. Webster said. “The rail companies did have to come and talk to the cities affected by this merger, but they didn't have to approach the other companies affected, like Arconic – which is the easiest one for me to cite with a plant a mile long on the other side of the tracks,” he added. “But there's many of those kinds of businesses and situations up and down the rail spur that goes along our riverfront.” The train bill is the seventh piece of legislation the senator has worked on so far since Iowa’s 90th General Assembly was seated Jan. 9. “So, I’ve hit the ground running,” he said. Already in the news is a bill clearing the use of cellphones while driving with a hands-free device – and another allowing cities and counties to use general obligation bonds for cyber security hardware and software, rather than require a time-consuming bond referendum to voters. A couple of other bills offer deregulation – on stormwater, topsoil, and on siding homeowners are allowed to use. “Some cities are going way overboard,” he said. Mr. Webster also is refiling a bill to allow for a sales tax rebate to help with expansion of Bettendorf’s TBK Bank Sports Complex.