Did you know that over a period of 120 years of Iowa City history – from 1850 to 1970 – there have been five railway systems that have attempted to bring passenger rail service into our community. Today, I’d like to tell you briefly about one of those railway systems.
Construction on the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Interurban Railway (CRANDIC) began in 1903. Formally established under the name Iowa Railway and Light Company, the CRANDIC’s original design was for a high-speed 27-mile “interurban” rail system connecting the metropolitan areas of Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.
On August 13, 1904, the first CRANDIC electric cars carrying passengers made its inaugural trip over the Interurban. On the same day, a booster power station was started for the first time – and that power station would eventually become the Iowa Electric Power and Light Company, later becoming the CRANDIC’s parent company – Alliant Energy.
In 1939, the CRANDIC purchased six high-speed light-weight interurban cars called Red Devils from the recently abandoned Cincinnati and Lake Erie Railroad, leading to the popular saying “Swing and Sway the CRANDIC Way” – referring to the motion caused by high-speed cars running on the CRANDIC’s very uneven track! For similar reasons, these Red Devils were also known as the “Vomit Comets”.
But, despite the jokes, the CRANDIC did a booming business in its heyday, running 13 trains daily, with each trip taking 75 minutes. Many benefited from the CRANDIC’s hourly departure from either city – beginning at 5 a.m. and ending at midnight.
No one group characterized the CRANDIC’s typical passenger: they came from towns or farms, and included men, women and children of all ages. Children took the train to school on popular cars such as the “Hot Shot” – a car that traveled south through North Liberty at 8 a.m. carrying 40-50 students to high school in Iowa City. Other cars, such as the “Milk Can Special” picked up both milk and students who had missed earlier cars. In a typical day, that train would carry 300 gallons of milk.
After World War II, and with the advent of the automobile, the CRANDIC shut down all passenger service on May 30, 1953, but continues today as a major mover of freight in the greater Iowa City/Cedar Rapids area.
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