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k0132 BC-IA-OsceolaRailroadDe 12-11 0415

Historic Osceola railroad depot to get a facelift

AP Photos

OSCEOLA, Iowa (AP) — A century-old passenger train depot in Osceola is on track for a makeover.

For years, the city has sought ownership of the brown brick depot from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad. In October, the city finally succeeded, said Osceola Mayor Fred Diehl.

Now, the building, originally built in 1907, hosts nearly 16,000 passengers annually. But riders have complained that the old facility presents a poor image of the city.

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"What we are going to do is fix up the outside of the building and restore it to what it was originally intended for," Diehl said. "We’ll put a new roof on it, tuckpoint the brick, install new windows, and put in a hard-surface parking lot."

Count Gary Billmeyer, of Des Moines, among the supporters of Diehl’s plan. Billmeyer is a regular Amtrak rider and the vice president of the Iowa Association of Railroad Passengers.

He last used the Osceola depot in October, while returning from a visit to Galesburg, Ill. The station serves Amtrak’s California Zephyr, which runs daily in both directions between Chicago and the West Coast.

"We have to preserve that train station. It’s a gateway for the Des Moines market and for Kansas City people to get on the Zephyr to go to Denver," Billmeyer said.

Eliot Keller, a member of the Iowa Passenger Train Coalition, said the improvements were an obvious need.

"It becomes a question of what face do you want to put on your community. Like it or not, it is a welcome center," Keller said.

Iowa is served by two daily long-distance Amtrak trains. The California Zephyr stops in Burlington, Mount Pleasant, Ottumwa, Osceola and Creston, while the Southwest Chief stops in Fort Madison en route between Chicago and Los Angeles.

In Osceola, repairs to the outside of the depot will cost an estimated $564,000. Most of the financing will be covered by a federal grant of $310,626 provided by the Iowa Department of Transportation. The rest will be paid off with money from city government, plus a share of Osceola’s casino profits.

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Diehl said he hopes the work will be done next year, with work on the inside of the depot to begin when additional funds become available.

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com

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