November 20, 2008

CHICAGO (Nov. 10)—Amtrak has named both the Illinois and Wisconsin departments of transportation as “Distinguished State Partners” for their sponsorship of two of the largest and fastest-growing state-supported passenger-train systems in the nation.

IDOT Acting Bureau of Railroads Chief George Weber and WisDOT Director of Rail and Harbors Ron Adams were personally congratulated on their programs by Amtrak CEO Alex Kummant on a recent visit to Chicago.

In his award to Weber, Kummant said, “George’s efforts on behalf of passenger rail have contributed to a robust, flourishing, state-supported route network. Frequent and convenient passenger rail service on the three state-supported corridors is the result of his hard work to ensure that Illinois taxpayers get the most value for their expenditures.”

Kummant noted in his remarks that under Weber’s initiative and guidance, “Amtrak has completed two new route studies per George’s request and is making progress on a third. These routes have the potential to add as many as 200,000 annual passengers. George is also providing leadership in developing innovative ideas to address Amtrak’s equipment shortage, and he continues to push for funding for a signal system that allows for 110- mph operation on the Chicago-Springfield route.”

UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo said it was gratifying to see Amtrak recognize potential that the union and its partners in the passenger-rail advocacy movement had detected years earlier.

“Make no mistake about it, George Weber’s leadership and persistence are a central reason why passenger-train ridership continues to grow and new railroad jobs are being created in Illinois,” Szabo said.

“While the UTU, the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, the Environmental Law & Policy Center, and the Illinois Municipal League were advocating passenger trains from the outside, George Weber was pushing the concept from inside IDOT,” Szabo explained.

“Without George’s leadership it would have been impossible to persuade the General Assembly to double its passenger-train budget, as it did in 2006, or to study route expansions to Rockford and the Quad Cities, as was done last year,” Szabo said. “Now George is pushing for a study of service to Peoria. He wants a total, state-wide passenger-train system.”

Szabo said as a result of Weber’s leadership, Illinois now has the second largest state-sponsored passenger-rail system in the nation, following California’s.

“Our trains carried over 1.1 million passengers in Fiscal Year 2008,” he said. “Ridership is growing by double digits, and cities that still lack passenger service are demanding that it be started at the earliest possible date.”

Amtrak cited Wisconsin for its sponsorship of the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha service, which is jointly sponsored with Illinois.

“Ten years ago, rail travel in Wisconsin was rarely mentioned as a viable alternative to the freeways and the airports, but after much attention by the state of Wisconsin—and Ron Adams in particular—rail travel is now the affordable alternative,” Kummant said.

He cited new stations in downtown Milwaukee, suburban Mitchell Airport and Sturtevant as major contributors to the growing popularity of the seven daily Hiawatha round trips. Nearly 750,000 passengers rode the Hiawatha service in Fiscal 2008, up 26 per cent over 2007. Illinois contributes 25% of the Hiawatha’s state support.