Game Day Train: Preseason inspection of the Hawkeye Express - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Game Day Train: Preseason inspection of the Hawkeye Express

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IOWA CITY (KWWL) - Fans can board the Hawkeye Express Saturday as they head to Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City as the U of I Hawkeyes host the UNI Panthers in the season opener.

Kirk Ferentz is the engine driving Iowa's football program, but the rest of the train that carries Hawkeye fans can be found in Waterloo most of the year.

On Wednesday, that train left its off-season station for Coralville where, for the next several weeks, it will help fans get to and from Kinnick Stadium for Iowa home games. Before the train headed south, KWWL went on board for a sense of what it takes to get the Hawkeye Express ready for the fall.

Every year, the Hawkeye Express brings thousands of fans to Kinnick. They see the cars and the colors, but what they don't see are the drills and the dedication behind the scenes. "Everything is double and triple checked to make sure it's ready to roll," said Jason Aarons, Iowa Northern Railway General Foreman Locomotive.

Welcome to training camp at the Iowa Northern Railway Company in Waterloo. "Waterloo is an important home for us. This is one of our largest yards," said Director of Administration Joshua Sabin. It's here where every nut, bolt, window, light and seat is examined. You name it, it needs a preseason inspection. "When you get 200 people in this car, it starts to cook... So trying to keep all the passengers cool, it's a big deal," said Aarons.

The first inspection is mid-April. Fast forward four months and the Hawkeye Express is ready for rail. But the work doesn't stop there. Just ask Aarons. "It doesn't matter if the game starts at 2:30 p.m., 11 a.m. or 7 o'clock that night, I'm on this train at 5:30 in the morning," said Aarons.

Aarons is a Hawkeye fan, but he doesn't see much of the game. He said even more important than a win on Saturday is to make sure he gets all of the passengers to the game on time. Your experience is riding on it. "Whether you're a Hawkeye fan or not, it's the state's train and that's really neat," said Sabin.

Once the season wraps up, one car will be sent to Wisconsin for a new paint job. The company that's been hired is under strict orders: paint it black, not Badger red.

You can get on the Hawkeye Express at the Coralville boarding stop along Highway 6. For games that start at 11 a.m., like this Saturday, trips start three hours before kickoff. A round-trip ticket is $12 for adults. Children 12 and younger ride free.

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