The chance for University of Iowa football fans to take the train to Kinnick Stadium has reached the end of the line.
A unique part of the game-day atmosphere at Hawkeye home games since 2004, the Hawkeye Express will no longer operate once fans are allowed to return to Kinnick Stadium to watch Iowa football games this fall.
The Iowa athletics department and the Iowa Northern Railway jointly announced Wednesday that multiple circumstances have led to the decision to discontinue the commuter rail service between Coralville and Kinnick Stadium.
The potential of continued social distancing requirements, a need for future equipment upgrades and overall increases in operating expenses prompted the decision to end the rail shuttle that was initially designed to help ease traffic congestion on streets near Kinnick Stadium.
“While it was a difficult decision to make, we all agree it is the right decision,’’ Iowa senior associate athletics director Matt Henderson said in a statement. “This experiences would not have occurred without the Sabin family and their Iowa Northern Railway Company.’’
In 2019, the last season the Hawkeye Express operated, an average of 3,700 fans boarded the train at a makeshift station adjacent to parking lots on the western edge of Coralville.
For a fee, passengers received round-trip transportation to a landing at the base of a stairway adjacent to a parking lot on the southwest side of Kinnick Stadium.
The train service began making the 10-minute trek from Coralville to Iowa City three hours before kickoff on each game day and would resume shuttling fans back to Coralville starting at the beginning of the fourth quarter of each Iowa home game with service continuing 90 minutes after games ended.
Consisting of former commuter rail cars, the Hawkeye Express is owned by the Iowa Northern Railway Company and ran on tracks owned by the Iowa Interstate Railroad that serves as that line’s main route between Council Bluffs and Chicago.
Josh Sabin, the director of administration for the Iowa Northern Railway, recalled that the Hawkeye Express was initially started by his father, Iowa Northern president Dan Sabin, following conversations with former Iowa director of athletics Bob Bowlsby and Mark Jennings, a former Iowa associate athletics director.
Iowa was seeking solutions for ways to ease traffic issues near Kinnick Stadium and reviving a train to the game – a common way fans traveled to Iowa City for games from the Quad-Cities and Des Moines in the 1950s – provided relief on the streets.
“We have had a lot of fun running this operation since 2004,’’ Josh Sabin said. “A lot of time and energy goes into this endeavor, but our staff and volunteers have truly enjoyed this experience and seeing the enjoyment of the fans.’’
He said the decision to end the shuttle service made sense to both his company and the university athletic department.
In announcing the decision, Iowa indicated that fans will be encouraged to use public parking options located in areas around Kinnick Stadium, including free parking at Hancher Auditorium and in the Finkbine commuter lots.