June 24, 2002

CHICAGO (June 24)–Chicago’s business community and labor unions found something they could agree on Monday: Amtrak deserves emergency federal funding so trains can keep running, passengers can keep riding and railroaders can keep working.

That was the clear message at an 11:30 a.m. rally and news conference in the Great Hall of Chicago Union Station. As four television cameras focused on the speakers and newspaper reporters jotted quotes, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce President Gerald Roper scalded Congress and the administration for endangering the financial integrity of the nation’s passenger railroad.

“Amtrak needs an immediate infusion of $200 million in the next week or it will shut down,” Roper said, echoing earlier warning by Amtrak CEO David Gunn. “Our elected officials need to find a short-term solution before we can start a spirited debate on the future structure of Amtrak and the railroad.”

Roper was followed by UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo, who told the journalists and a collection of worried Amtrak employees that “Shutting Amtrak down would threaten thousands of jobs for working men and women across the nation.

“Putting thousands of people out of work at a time of economic uncertainty would not help our economy or the thousands of families who would suffer as a result,” Szabo said.

Potential job losses at Amtrak and among the businesses that depend on it was a theme picked up by U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) and Tim Lahey, Secretary-Treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor. Both predicted widespread hardship and disruption among the 2,000 Illinois families dependent on Amtrak for a paycheck, and Davis warned ominously, “Once Amtrak shuts down it is going to be very hard to get those trains running again.”

As the day ended, U.S. Transp. Norman Mineta assured reporters in Washington that he expected emergency funding would be found, either in the form of a government-guaranteed loan or an emergency congressional appropriation, in time to prevent a shutdown at midweek.

But Mineta gave no details as to what the likely financing method might be, and there was no word from the Amtrak board of directors, which went into a special meeting at 2 p.m. Washington time and was still in session four hours later.