Iowa River Rail Trail
Corridor History

Looking down the tracks in Gifford, Iowa

The corridor on which the Iowa River Rail Trail is being developed has a fascinating history associated with it, and was crucial to the settlement of several communities in and along the Iowa River Greenbelt.

  • 1866 – The discovery of coal in the Eldora area resulted in the formation of the Eldora Railroad & Coal Company, linking the coal bank area north of Eldora with Ackley to connect with the Dubuque & Sioux City Railroad.
  • 1868 – Eldora Railroad taken over by Iowa River Railway to extend the railroad 28 miles south of Eldora to Marshalltown to connect with the C&NW.  The line is completed in 1869 and in the meantime the company was renamed the Central Railroad Company of Iowa.
  • 1870-1879 – Road suffers through many financial problems, reorganizations and name changes and emerges as the Central Iowa Railway.
  • 1888 – Iowa Central Railroad (also referred to as the “Hook and Eye”) purchases Central Iowa Railway.
  • 1900 – Minneapolis & St. Louis Railroad stockholders take a majority ownership in the Iowa Central. 
  • 1911 – Iowa Central and Minneapolis & St. Louis Railroad are merged and retain the Minneapolis & St. Louis name.
  • 1958 – Passenger service is discontinued between Albert Lea, MN and Albia, IA; including the segment through Hardin & Marshall Counties.
  • 1960 - Chicago & Northwestern Railway purchases the Minneapolis & St. Louis.
  • 1983 – C&NW acquires parallel line (the “Spine Line” running through the western half of Hardin County) and subsequently reroutes the majority of its Kansas City – Minneapolis traffic over this line, greatly reducing rail traffic on the former road to local service only.
  • 1995 – C&NW assimilated into the Union Pacific Railroad.
  • 2006 – Iowa River Railroad organized by a group of local shippers and purchases UP line from Steamboat Rock to Marshalltown, along with the rail-banked portion of track from Steamboat Rock to Ackley from the North Central Railway Association. 
  • 2008 – Severe flooding causes damage to line, particularly between Eldora and Liscomb rendering IARR’s infrastructure unable to provide rail service for several months until repairs could be made.  It’s determined that major rehabilitation of the line is needed but is too cost prohibitive for IARR to undertake.
  • 2010 - IARR declares line as a “Category I”, which allows for abandonment at any time within the next three years.
  • 2012 – Final freight train run on the IARR between Ackley and Marshalltown.
  • 2012 – Iowa River Railroad files for abandonment of line running from Steamboat Rock to Marshalltown with the Surface Transportation Board.
  • 2012 – Request for imposition of a public use condition and issuance of an interim trail use for the line is filed on behalf of Marshall and Hardin County Conservation Boards, and the Cities of Marshalltown, Union, Steamboat Rock, Liscomb, Eldora and Albion and the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation.  Action is approved by the Surface Transportation Board.
  • 2013 – Public meetings on proposed trail begin in communities along the line.
  • 2013 – Removal, salvage and scrapping of rails and ties begins between Marshalltown and Steamboat Rock.
  • 2013  Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation completes purchase of railroad right of way from the Iowa River Railroad.  Fundraising activities begin for development of trail.
  • 2013 IRRT project receives $775,000 grant from Iowa DOT to acquire IRRT right of way from INHF and eventually transfer ownership to Hardin County and Marshalltown.
  • 2013  Hardin County Board of Supervisors create trail commission; and TRAILS, Inc. organized as a non-profit organization in Marshall County, to oversee trail development and eventual operation and maintenance efforts of the IRRT in both counties.

Courtesy of Dennis Holmes, here are some slides of some of the rail activity around the Steamboat Rock area photographed by Henry "Ike" Cramer.  These photos were largely taken in the late 50's to about 1960 when the Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway was still in existence.  They provide a neat insight into the rich railroad history of the corridor on which the IRRT is being developed!